30 November 2011

Tzedakah, Tithing, Charitable Giving - Whatever You Want To Call It

I take our charitable giving seriously. We don't tithe, per se, and we don't have a tzedakah box - but then again, we're atheists and those two traditions are rooted in organized religion.

But still, the idea of taking a percentage of one's income and giving it to those who need it more is a good and honorable practice.

With the end of the year approaching, consider charitable contributions to local organizations. The local ones are often smaller and less able to fund the glossy direct mail pieces that are likely flooding into your mailbox packed with address labels and greeting cards. Consider instead:

  • A local food pantry
  • The homeless outreach program nearby
  • The nearest animal shelter
  • Your child's daycare center
  • The amateur orchestra in your county
  • The safe house for domestic violence victims in the next town
  • Your village's volunteer ambulance corps

There's nothing wrong with the big guys, it's just that small non-profits often have to work a lot harder for the funds they raise, and will be enormously grateful to you for your donation, no matter how small.

I'm locally encouraging local giving via a series I wrote for our local on-line "paper". My impetus for the series was two-fold: 1) the annual start of the New York Times Neediest Cases fund drive, and 2) encountering a local non-profit at my farmers market that I'd never before heard of. I figured if the Times could encourage charity, and there were obscure non-profits in my very town, my local paper could and should shine a spotlight on our local organizations. Happily, the editor agreed.

So give locally this year, just like you shop locally and eat locally produced food. You can make a difference.

29 November 2011

Adding And Subtracting

Oh wise educator types - I need some help.

The child. She can add and subtract. She can even add and subtract three digit numbers. But they've been doing timed drills on single digit adding and subtracting, and she manages to get through maybe 50 of 100 equations in 8 or 9 minutes. 2 + 1 = __. 9 - 4 = __. It's stuff you shouldn't have to think about, and I know she knows it - but she gets bogged down. She needs to learn to speed up a little.

Yesterday afternoon, I had her do some subtraction drills. I gave her 10 problems and a minute to do them in; she finished in 40 seconds. Another 10 problems; she finished in 20 seconds. 20 problems, she finished in under 2 minutes. But when I gave her a sheet of 100, she petered out and could only do about half in 9 minutes. Lacks stamina. Voices frustration: "I can't do math". Clearly there's a disconnect here; she can do it, but she short circuits.

I tried giving her a mantra:

I can do 10.
If I can do 10, I can do 20.
If I can do 20, I can do them all.

She didn't like that one bit.

I tried having her warm up by writing the numbers from 1 to 10 forwards and then backwards, as quickly as possible. That helped with the next round of 10 and 20 problems; she still chokes when faced with a longer set.

And it's not sinking in for use later: this afternoon in school, she got 43 out of 100, in 8.5 minutes.

Any ideas? Yes, I've talked to her teacher - who is also pondering the puzzle. But I thought you wise people might have ideas too.

28 November 2011

Rye, Spelt, Oatmeal...Oh My!

A cookbook came out last year. Oh right, you say, cookbooks come out All The Time. But there are several kinds of cookbooks:

  • Pretty ones with lovely pictures, that no one ever uses in the kitchen.
  • Encyclopedic ones, like The Joy of Cooking - essential and useful, but not likely to make your heart sing.
  • Personal ones that you want to take to bed with you, like Nigel Slater's.
  • Niche ones, that tell you how to doctor cake mix or how to be a socialite.

Once in a while, though, you find one that pushes all the buttons - personal, useful, pretty - and you find yourself blown away by the extraordinary recipes, one after another.

For the past year, that spot's been filled - for me - by Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain. It's a book on baking with whole grain flours, divided into chapters by grain. It's not earthy-crunchy to the point of leaden hockey pucks - there's plenty of leavening, enough plain white flour for lightness, and lots of butter. Everything I've tried has been fabulous, from the crumble bars with rye flour and oatmeal, to the mind-blowing zucchini bread with basil and mint. Right now, I've got a batch of her oatmeal bread rising on the counter. I bought spelt at the Greenmarket one day, and used it to make an amazing pie crust, brittle and flaky. And the granola! I've been making great granola for years, but Boyce's technique, with a boiled syrup of honey/brown sugar/butter, makes for a glossier, crunchier product.

It's totally the wrong time of year for zucchini bread, at least here in the Northeast, but save it until next summer when your garden or your farm stand is overrun with zucchini, basil and mint. And put the book on your Christmas list. You'll be happy you did.

ZUCCHINI BREAD (from Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain)

2 T. chopped fresh basil
1 T. chopped fresh mint
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 lb zucchini (about 2 medium)
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 eggs
1 cup rye flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. kosher salt

Position rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°. Lightly butter a standard bread loaf pan, or three mini loaf pans.

Melt the stick of butter. Add herbs and let them steep while you prep the rest of the ingredients.

Grate the zucchini on the large holes of a box grater. Add yogurt and egg, and whisk together.

Stir together the dry ingredients in a separate large mixing bowl.

Scrape the butter/herbs into the zucchini mixture and stir together. Pour the zucchini mixture into the dry ingredients and fold gently until combined. Scrape the batter into your prepared loaf pan(s).

Bake for 60-70 minutes if using a large loaf pan - or about 30 minutes in mini loaf pans. A skewer inserted into the center of the loaf should come out clean.

Cool in the pans for about 10 minutes, then remove and cool on a rack.

Wrapped tightly in plastic, it can be kept up to 3 days, getting better the next day as the flavors have some time to meld together.

27 November 2011


Probably as a result of my attendance at BlogHer last summer, a conference sponsored in part by Proctor and Gamble, I've gotten several pitches from Pringles, a recent of which read as follows:


Let Pringles pack lunch with a punch this school year! Keep it tasty and crunchy and sure to start some conversations at the lunch table.

Pringles should be on every parent's "Back to School" list this year with their easy packable products that make lunch-time exciting and fun for the kids and effortless for parents. Perfect options to keep their lunches exciting everyday of the week, just toss them in and call it a night!
  • Snack Stacks: Each single-serve tub is designed...
  • Stix: A stick to dip spread and snack in three crispy...
  • 100 Calorie Packs: Individual portioned packs...
Don't forget that Pringles also make a perfect afterschool snack! Whether the kids are going straight home from school, or heading to an afterschool sport, keep Pringles on hand to keep hunger at bay!

Please let me know if you're interested in receiving additional information or product samples.



Then, at the beginning of October (I know, shoot me, I'm almost done with my NaBloPoMo clean out of my drafts folder), the New York Times Magazine published a handy info graphic of all the very many flavors of Pringles available world wide.

Who knew?

I had half a mind to write back and ask for samples of Tandoori Chicken, Jamon, Thai Sweet Chili and Butter Soy Pringles, but I restrained myself.

What would you want?

26 November 2011


I buy many pairs of black wool ribbed knee socks. Oh, I have other socks, sure, lots of whimsical stripes and mis-matched trios, but a nice black wool knee sock is often what I want to wear to work.

When I sort the laundry, I eyeball all of the very similar single black wool knee socks and pair them up. But then comes a Tuesday, and mis-matched whimsy won't do, and I put on what seems to be a pair of black wool ribbed knee socks, only to discover - halfway to the train station - that they are subtly different and one only comes halfway up my calf and is now collapsing towards my ankle while the other fits as it's supposed to and then I'm annoyed for the whole day.

I should probably throw out every single black wool ribbed knee sock that I own and start over again with a dozen pairs from the same company.

But I'll probably just keep being annoyed.

It's the human condition, with a smear of frugality on top, right?

25 November 2011

Green Grapes and Sour Cream

Working through my drafts folder has meant wading through post ideas that were often nothing but a link, or a link and a sentence, or a headline.

Like one that was headlined:

Green Grapes and Sour Cream

And contained naught but a link:

Go ahead. Click that link. Or just parse it and note that it's from July 2010 - more than a year ago.

Smitten Deb had published a recipe, for a raspberry brown sugar gratin, a three ingredient dessert. And I'd read it and drooled, but mostly I remembered a recipe my mother used to make, an easy recipe for casual dinner parties.  She'd take some sour cream, stir it up with a few drops of vanilla, blob it over green grapes in a shallow dish, sieve brown sugar over the top, and run the whole thing under the broiler. You'd get the cold juicy grapes, with the tangy unctuous cream, and the toasty caramelized sugar, and it was a joyous mess with shades of crème brûlée.

I haven't made either of them, either Moky's grape version, or Deb's raspberry one. But recipes like that become so much more than just recipes. They're memory prods, Proust's madeleines. They transport you back to a period when people had dinner parties, and women wore perfume, and children were neither seen nor heard. The oven is open, just so, the broiler is going, and just to my right is the big black Garland stove, and there's a marble slab on the counter over the oven, with a waiting cooling rack, even though the grapes never get hot so you don't really need the rack.

What can you taste just by thinking about it? And conversely, what tastes conjure up indelible memories?

As for me, I think I'll make the green grape/sour cream gratin the next time my gluten-free friend comes for dinner.

24 November 2011


The collaborative menu arrived at, via many emails and a shared Google Document, goes as follows:

The apple cider jelly is a ridiculous thing to put on the table, a Victorian frou-frou not far off from canned cranberry sauce with the ridges showing. It falls somewhere on the main course side of the sweet/savory axis; it's definitely not dessert. But I wanted to make it, because I'd made it once long before the girl was born, and wanted her to experience its quivering delight. You make it in a fancy mold, and it has altogether too much gelatin in it, and it's a rather wonderful jiggly eccentricity.

May your Thanksgiving include Rockettes, and three kinds of cranberries at the table, wherever you may be.

Cider Jelly
adapted from Laurie Colwin's More Home Cooking

Five (5) packets of unflavored gelatin
2 cups sugar (or less, to taste)
grated zest of 1 lemon
¼ t. cinnamon
1 cup cold water
1/3 cup lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
1 quart apple cider

1. In a bowl mix the gelatin, sugar, lemon zest and cinnamon. Pour in the cold water and stir to combine well.
2. Add the lemon juice.
3. Bring the cider to a boil, skimming off any scum. Pour the cider into the gelatin mixture and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Set aside to cool.
4. When the mixture is cooled but not yet set, pour it into a 1-quart pudding mold and chill it in the refrigerator overnight, or until set.

23 November 2011


So we're driving around in the car one day, singing along to Bruce Springsteen's Seeger Sessions - which, incidentally, is an all around great record, particularly well suited to singing along with while driving around in the car. Oh, and don't just download it; get the CD - it comes with a fabulous 40 minute documentary about them making the record in Bruce's house, with the horn section stuck three rooms away and everyone drinking rather a lot of whiskey. That you should probably watch at home, not while driving around in the car, because you're going to want some whiskey with the DVD.

I digress.

We were listening to Jesse James, when all of a sudden, the girl pipes up from the back seat: Mama, this is inappropriate.

I am one of those people who never listens to the lyrics. Actually, I don't really hear them, and I can't remember them; the words just don't stick with me. Hell, I can barely sing along to the national anthem - I know the tune, I know where the fermatas and the high notes are, I just don't know the words.

But Jesse James? Inappropriate? I started listening along.

It turns out that her objection wasn't that Jesse killed people and robbed the Glendale train. That was okay, because Jesse's a Robin Hood-like folk hero, stealing from the rich.

Jesse James was a lad that killed many a man,
He robbed the Glendale train,
He stole from the rich and he gave to the poor,
He'd a hand and a heart and a brain.

Nope, inappropriate was the fact that Jesse got shot in the back, in cold blood.

Now the people held their breath when they heard of Jesse's death,
They wondered how he ever came to fall
Robert Ford, it was a fact, he shot Jesse in the back
While Jesse hung a picture on the wall

It's moments like that, when my kid puts a whole new spin on things, that really take my breath away. I love that she can teach me to listen.

22 November 2011

Small Business Saturday

I very much like the idea of Small Business Saturday - go shop locally this coming Saturday (11/26) and support a small business.

Even better, if you have an American Express card and a Facebook account, you can jump through some hoops and register your card - if you do that and then spend more than $25 in a little local store, you'll get $25 back from Amex. Free money!

And no, no one paid me to tell you that. I do believe in shopping locally though - it's why I volunteer my time with the farmers market, it's why I held my daughter's birthday party in the local one-off ice cream store. And if there were still a bookstore in my town, I'd be a happy camper.

21 November 2011

Persnickety Territorial Alliance

The PTA in my town makes my skin crawl. I should just let it go; instead I'm going to blather on to you, dear diary, because it's the best way I know of putting my demons to rest.

They hold their meetings at 9:30 in the morning. Yes. What this means is that any parent with a job is essentially excluded from the PTA meetings. When I wrote to the chairman of my child's elementary school's PTA, she emailed back to say:

Generally speaking, we have found that PTA meetings in the evening are less well attended then ones in the morning as juggling kids' schedules and finding childcare pose challenges. Having said that, the (town) PTA meetings are usually in the evenings... In addition, there is a Joint elementary PTA meeting on (date) at 7:30 at (school). We don't know the theme of that meeting yet but it is a good one to attend as it brings together parents from all 3 elementary schools.

She went on to say that there were evening and weekend volunteer activities - for the book fair and the Halloween fair.

My response was:

Thank you. Given that part of the stated mission of the PTA is "to bring into closer relation the home and the school, that parents and teachers may cooperate intelligently in the education of children and youth;" - which is a direct quote from the (local) PTA website as well as the State and National PTA websites - it would seem that meetings of (elementary school's) teachers and parents at a time when parents could attend would be a good thing. Of necessity, that ought to be on a school by school basis, or at the very least, in groups by school level (elementary - middle - high) - how else to have any reasonable or specific dialogue? I appreciate that there is a Joint elementary school PTA meeting in October and I will try and be there.

When I said I'd be interested in being a more active participant, I didn't mean as a volunteer at the book fair or the halloween party. While those may be fun activities, they really haven't anything to do with the education of our children.

Again, it is exclusionary to all of the working parents to hold PTA meetings in the morning - and even if only a small percentage of households have two working parents, that means you are excluding more than half of the parent body from the PTA meetings.

Talking to a brick wall. No response.

Sometime thereafter, I got the email announcement about the October "Joint elementary school PTA meeting" and I sputtered. It was to be a presentation on "Nutrition Basics For Kids with a focus on Quick Healthy Meals", by a dietician from the county's children's hospital. It went on:

Please send us a recipe for a quick healthy snack or meal that your kids love by noon tomorrow. We will compile these recipes and distribute recipe books to everyone at the event.

We also encourage you to bring with you a sample of your recipe for all to taste.

Tell me, dear readers, how does a nutrition lecture with recipe tasting and cookbook assembly help "parents and teachers ... cooperate intelligently in the education of children and youth" and how were the teachers involved?

I got all in a dander again when I got an email - which was sent to the entire K-12 school community - with the subject "What Are You? Red or Blue?" I don't know about you, but to me, these days, red or blue reads Republican or Democrat - and politics are not the purview of the PTA. Turns out they were requesting dues if not yet paid. We'd already paid our admittedly modest $15 dues, but the email felt like a shakedown, what with graphs and such, and the adjective "required" used in connection with dues. Since when are DUES required? Taxes are required. Death is unavoidable. Dues are not. The snarky missive I sent in response to that email? Ether, baby, ether. I've probably had my email address blacklisted.

Damn good thing I have a full-time job. At least I can gripe about the PTA with the people on the train who are similarly disenfranchised.

20 November 2011

Piet Piet, Magpies and Toast

My sister-in-law forwarded to me an OED word of the day email, with a note: "Hey! Do you know this word?"

The word was "piet", and as I scrolled through the various definitions, I was delighted to find that one of them was "the magpie, Pica pica."

I loved learning that a piet was a magpie. The only other piet I knew of was Piet Hein, a Danish polymath whose poetry I'd been given by my sixth grade teacher, one Mrs. Gordon. They're tiny little poems, snips of wisdom perilously close to doggerel, but fun none-the-less.

That book of poetry is somewhere in my house; I know not where. Happily, his "grooks" are scattered hither and yon about the intertubes. Here's one, silly but full of truth:


There's an art of knowing when.
Never try to guess.
Toast until it smokes and then
twenty seconds less.

19 November 2011

Going Pear-Shaped

Do you know that I have a spare blog? I do. It's called Decay and Desuetude. I take pictures of falling down structures - people aren't allowed, and decaying nature doesn't count.

I love the inadvertent beauty in rust and peeling paint.

Come visit sometime.

To paraphrase Robert Graves, this blog is the show dog; Decay is my cat.

18 November 2011

PSA: The Republican Field

I've not been paying much attention to the sideshow that's the Republicans trying to find a candidate for next year. Sure, I was amused when Rick Perry couldn't think of the third agency he wanted to eradicate, and I'm appalled about Herman Cain making jokes about Anita Hill. And I do read Gail Collins in the Times with some regularity, and note with glee every single time she works Romney and the dog on the roof of the car into her column - which is to say, often.

What? You don't know that story? Someone in my office had never heard it, so maybe you haven't either. Here it is, direct from the original Boston Globe article:

The white Chevy station wagon with the wood paneling was overstuffed with suitcases, supplies, and sons when Mitt Romney climbed behind the wheel to begin the annual 12-hour family trek from Boston to Ontario...Before beginning the drive, Mitt Romney put Seamus, the family's hulking Irish setter, in a dog carrier and attached it to the station wagon's roof rack. He'd built a windshield for the carrier, to make the ride more comfortable for the dog...Then Romney put his boys on notice: He would be making predetermined stops for gas, and that was it.

Call this my public service announcement, because everyone needs to know that Mitt Romney once drove to Canada with his dog on the roof of his car.

17 November 2011


I have a thing for shrubbery.

It may have something to do with Monty Python:

ARTHUR: Well, what is it you want?
HEAD KNIGHT: We want... a shrubbery!
[dramatic chord]
ARTHUR: A what?
ARTHUR and PARTY: Oh, ow!
ARTHUR: Please, please! No more! We shall find a shrubbery.
HEAD KNIGHT: You must return here with a shrubbery or else you will never pass through this wood alive!
ARTHUR: O Knights of Nee, you are just and fair, and we will return
with a shrubbery.
HEAD KNIGHT: One that looks nice.
ARTHUR: Of course.
HEAD KNIGHT: And not too expensive.
HEAD KNIGHTS: Now... go!

Then again, it could be my mother. She once went to her favorite garden supply place, and encountered a woman wandering around the azalea department shrieking "where are your bushes?" - presumably not recognizing azaleas as bushes. Or shrubbery. "Where are your bushes?" is one of those lines now in the family lexicon.

Or perhaps it's an Edward Gorey thing.

On the shore a bat, or possibly an umbrella,
disengaged itself from the shrubbery,
causing those nearby to recollect the miseries of childhood.

In any case, I found myself highlighting a sentence in the Wilkie Collins book* I'm reading.

He drifted away aimlessly in the direction of the shrubbery.

And when you highlight things on the Kindle, other people can see it via "popular highlights". So will the next person to read said Wilkie Collins encounter my shrubbery highlight? I do hope so.

Incidentally, shrubbery is a collective, a plurality of shrubs, but A shrubbery is a place, a garden border thickly shrub-planted.

Bring me a shrubbery!

*It's called No Name, and I got it as a free Kindle download. Free! I do love it when things go out of copyright. And I'm enjoying it, and I can't remember why I looked for it in the first place. Did you tell me to read it?

16 November 2011

Sex and Drugs and Rock 'n Roll

In the department of better late than never, I’m here to report that we took the girl to her first Broadway show last summer. I’m only telling you this because 1) it was one of the infernal posts-in-draft, and 2) Mom-101 took her kids to see Godspell, where they found Jesus.

Hair, the original production, the real thing, opened on Broadway in 1968. It was a big hit, and my parents went to see it, twice. We had the “original cast album”, which we played all the time, singing songs like Sodomy. And even though I was in elementary school at the time, I was crushed that they wouldn’t take me to see it.

Hair finally got revived a couple of years ago – first in Central Park, then on Broadway, then it went off on tour. It came back to New York for a limited run this summer, and I thought it was time to take the girl – and to finally see it myself.

Y’all know that there’s nudity in it, right?

In the lobby where we were picking up the tickets, there was a tasteful sign:

There is a dimly lit
20-second scene with nudity
that is non-sexual in nature.

Dimly-lit. 20 seconds. Non-sexual. NUDITY.

The ticket taker looked at the seven year old, and said to me, “you know there’s nudity in this show?”

I shrugged. 20 seconds of dimly-lit non-sexual nudity? Please.

We sat down and watched the show. The girl was riveted. Agog. Delighted. Thrilled to take home the daisies and handbills passed through the aisles by the flower children. And yes, fascinated by the 20 seconds of dimly-lit non-sexual nudity. "Look! It’s Berger’s penis!"

Me, I was a little taken aback by the ample amounts of sex and drugs in the show. Mind you, I’m not a prude, but she was seven and sex, drugs? Frankly, that’s what should be on the sign out front:

This show includes
simulated fornication,
feigned pot smoking, and
20 seconds of dimly-lit,
non-sexual nudity.

The kid seemed unfazed; I think most of it just went over her head. We bought her a peace sign t-shirt at intermission, and danced on stage at the end holding hands with Jeanie, and I’m really happy that we went.

15 November 2011

A Daily Loaf

We make most of our own bread. Sometimes we do baguettes or a boule, using the Artisan-Bread-In-Five-Minutes-A-Day method. And sometimes we make a sandwich bread, baked in a loaf pan.

I've written about this bread before, but I've never posted the recipe. Actually, I'm not really going to post the "recipe", because I'm going to skim over the baking method and just give you the ingredients.

2 cups of bread flour
1 1/2 t. yeast
2 T. sugar
2 T. powdered milk
1 t. salt
1 cup of grainstuff of your choice, see below
18 T. water
1 1/2 T. butter

Get a bunch of 1 quart plastic containers and line them up on the counter. I usually do five or six at a time. Working assembly line fashion, add 2 cups of bread flour to each container, then the sugar, yeast, powdered milk and salt. Ignore the water and butter; they're for later.

You need another cup of flour, for three cups altogether, but I find that as long as I use two cups of bread flour, I can play around with what goes into the third cup. In the most recent assembly line, I used:

  1. a cup of whole wheat flour
  2. 1/2 cup of chickpea flour + 1/2 cup bread flour
  3. 1/3 cup of dry Wheatena + 2/3 cup bread flour
  4. 1/2 cup harvest grains (as is) + 1/2 cup bread flour
  5. 1/2 cup harvest grains buzzed in the food processor + 1/2 cup bread flour

In short, I look through the freezer and the pantry and pick and choose from what's there. Seeds, non-wheat flour, grains - all are fair game.

Last, I label all the quart containers, with shorthand instructions about the water/butter, and store them in the fridge. If I'm really organized, I note what the mystery ingredient was, so I can assess later. Usually I forget, though, and have to guess: is this spelt or Wheatena?

When it's bread time, the water & butter go in the bottom of the bread machine, with the dry ingredients on top. I let the machine do the kneading and first rise, and then I fit the dough into a loaf pan for the second rise (in a warmish place for an hour or so) and the baking (about 45 minutes at about 350° F).

[Without a bread machine, you could dump everything in a bowl and mix it up by hand.]

In any case, it makes a terrific loaf of bread. We toast it, we cut holes in it and fry eggs in the middle, we send it to school sandwiching cheese or jelly, we use it for bread pudding, and if get stale before we finish it, it goes in the food processor to become bread crumbs.

14 November 2011


Ahead of me on the sidewalk
A locust sheds a pinnate spray, golden yellow.
It wafts downward,
Alighting on a young woman’s head.

Serendipitously bedecked, she crosses the street,
But the breeze from a passing taxi
Lifts her hair ornament away.

She never knew of her momentary panache,
But I did, and it made me smile.

Note: the locust herein is a TREE, genus: Gleditsia.

13 November 2011

In Which I Shoot My Mouth Off About Electric Cars

One of the things that I realized during the #Snowtober power outage is that it's a damned good thing we don't have a plug-in electric car.

It's one thing to run a handful of appliances off of a small generator, and use candles and batteries, and open the garage door by hand. But I dare say you can't recharge an electric car with a little Subaru generator. So then what? Huh? Stuck until the power company sees fit to restore you to the grid.

My husband's always railing that electric cars are the wrong tree to be barking up, that it's just shifting the power generation (and attendant pollution) to a single source. He's all in favor of hydrogen fuel cells.

Me, I like the idea of running a car on chicken shit.

What about you?

12 November 2011

Birthday Baking

I know, I know. Her actual birthday was two days ago, but the school chum party is today, so it's still on my mind.

The thing about having a full time job is that it's hard to get some things done. Happily, my husband totally stepped up to the plate this year, producing 25 apple pie cookies for the girl to take to school on Thursday, and a chocolate chocolate cake for our family celebration Thursday evening.

The apple pie cookies are a totally fussy recipe from Smitten Kitchen. I'd seen the recipe, and mentally bookmarked it, and then the demon baker of my office made them and brought them in. They're terrific. I was going to streamline them by cutting bigger circles and folding them over a half slice of apple - making half-round cookies. But my husband followed the instructions, as he is wont to do. They were awfully cute, and apparently all the children liked them.

He made the cake using two recipes from The Cake Bible, although as he described it, he kind of punted on the icing. No matter, it was fabulous. And he gilded the lily with a smear of raspberry puree between the layers. He does say that he is Never Baking A Cake Again.

I punted by having her party this afternoon at the local hipster locavore ice cream shop. No dancing in my house, no cleaning up to do, no more cake to bake, and support for a small business to boot.

11 November 2011

11:11 on 11/11/11

It's too good to miss, right? It's 11:11am, on 11/11/11. The eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the eleventh year...

Do you know that there's a lot of hocus pocus about the confluence of elevens, especially the 11:11 part?

For example, Uri Geller says "The 11.11 is the bridge to our vitality and oneness. It is our pathway into the positive unknown and beyond." Um. Sure.

Go ahead, google 11:11. You find things like this and this and this and this. Doorways and DNA and spiritual awakenings, oh my!

Let's just take it for what it is: four ones lined up in a row. If you want to think that it means something, fine. Personally, I think it's just something that happens twice a day, every day, unless you're on unambiguous military time, in which case you only get it before lunch.

That said, you could use 11:11 as a marker, a moment to take a breath, remember something, make a wish. Some people out there are now making a rubber watch that chimes every day at 11:11 - to remind you to do just that, make a wish or do something nice. It's called the Wishing Watch.

Would you like one? They've offered me seven to give away, to seven of you lucky readers. All you have to do is leave one wish in a comment. [Comments close on 11/22/11 - a date picked solely for its palindromic nature.]

And wait! There's more! For each watch purchased between now and 12/31/11, the Wishing Watch company will donate $3 to the non-profit daycare center that my daughter attended. The Wishing Watch is only $11.11 (like it could be any other price). If you'd like to buy one, go to www.wishingwatch.com and enter OAKLANE in the promotional code box at checkout.

Disclosure: No one paid me to write this post, but I thought some of you might like a rubber watch, and anyway, who could resist the 11:11 on 11/11/11 business?

10 November 2011


Eight years ago, she was a helpless newborn, full of unrealized potential. Today, she's a third grader, full of vim and vinegar, piss and vigor.

Eight years ago, she was 22". Now she's 53", and has grown two and a half inches since last year.

Eight years ago, I didn't know that she would make me a better person, bit by bit, every single day.

Happy birthday, girlie. You'll always be my favorite baby.

09 November 2011

Nine Things I Would Like To See One Day

Ilina's liquor cabinet
Amanda's store
Jen's jungle

Christine's massage parlor
Becky's cornfields
Maggie's Paris

Julie's bicycle
Catherine's ice fishers
Kelley's tattoo

And you?

08 November 2011


It's a duty.

It's a right.

It's a privilege.

It's a responsibility.

Exercise your franchise. There may be contested elections where you live, there might be important referendums on the ballot. Even if it seems like there's nothing doing, vote anyway. Make your voice heard. Do your duty. Vote.

07 November 2011

On Personhood and Schrödinger's Cat

On a beautiful July afternoon, nine years ago, we had a late lunch with friends who were visiting from Iowa. As I sat in that sidewalk cafe on Madison Avenue and sipped my cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc, I contemplated the fact that I was pregnant.
Wait, stop. I wasn't drinking while pregnant.

While we sat on wicker bistro chairs in the warm summer sun, our tiny embryos were dividing in their sterile petri dish in a lab in New Jersey. So, I wasn't actually pregnant - the embryos weren't in me, and wouldn't be for another day or so. And even then, in that interminable two week wait before the pregnancy test - between the careful transfer of the embryos to my uterus and the cross-all-fingers-and-hope-it-works implantation of one of them into that plush endometrial lining - even then I wasn't pregnant. Really.

You've probably heard that Mississippi has a measure on the ballot tomorrow to define a person as a person from the moment of fertilization.

Be it Enacted by the People of the State of Mississippi: SECTION 1. Article III of the constitution of the state of Mississippi is hereby amended BY THE ADDITION OF A NEW SECTION TO READ: Section 33. Person defined. As used in this Article III of the state constitution, "The term 'person' or 'persons' shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof." This initiative shall not require any additional revenue for implementation.

People. This is ridiculous. A fertilized egg does not a person make. What this amendment is is an all out assault on women's reproductive rights. Besides the obvious - a ban on abortion in any way, shape or form - it would disallow any form of contraception which prevents the fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.

Shall we talk about the definition of pregnant?

"Having a child or other offspring developing in the body." Okay then - I was in New York, my embryos were in New Jersey. Not pregnant.

Now, let's review how a pregnancy is calculated. In the normal course of events, when pregnancy occurs without recourse to modern technology, the obstetrician calculates the age of the pregnancy based on the last menstrual period.

So - from last menstrual period to fertilization is about two weeks. It takes about two weeks from fertilization before there's enough human chorionic gonadotropin in the maternal blood/urine to diagnose a pregnancy. You counting? That's four weeks from the last menstrual period to the Big Fat Postitive, and when you get that BFP, you're decreed to be four weeks pregnant. But, you got two weeks for nothing in there, and the pregnancy was undetectable for the second two weeks.

Let's say the fertilized egg fails to implant in the uterus. Was there a pregnancy at all? What about those two weeks for nothing? If the fertilized egg is the determinant, but said egg fails to implant, were you pregnant for two weeks plus as many days as it takes from fertilization to the demise of the unimplanted embryo?

It's starting to be a little Schrödinger's cat-like, no? During those two weeks between the beginning of the last menstrual period and the fertilization of that egg, one is pregnant and not pregnant at the same time. Let's be ridiculous and extrapolate backwards: each and every sexually active female between puberty and menopause is pregnant for two weeks every month. Um, right. Of course not.

Here's the thing - there's no way to know which fertilized egg is going to make it, and most of them don't, because of an inhospitable environment, bad chromosomes, or improper cell division. If the fertilized egg doesn't go to become a screeching newborn baby, even in the absence of birth control methods that might interfere with implantation, should the mother be held responsible? No. It's the way of nature. This whole "personhood" amendment is based on bad science, and is full of unintended consequences. Don't vote for it, Mississippi.

06 November 2011

Things Found In The Front Hall Chest

My siblings and I spent a few hours cleaning out some cabinets on the third floor of our mother's house, as well as a chest in the front lobby. Most of the contents were either Christmas, Easter, or Halloween related.

Dead Sample: small jar containing one Christmas tree light bulb

?Found in this drawer. From What?: screws in a plastic bag

Xmas tree piece - steel cylinder, copper tube: Envelope, with paper clip. Contents not viewed.

An index card with the specifics of the refinishing of that piece of furniture (color of miniwax, number of coats, application of paste wax): Left in the chest, and not photographed.

05 November 2011

In Case You've Been Wondering...

NaBloPoMo 2011I decided that instead of deleting all of my draft posts, I would spit them out as part of NaBloPoMo.

I did delete some, but there's a fair amount of dreck coming down the pike.

You're welcome.

04 November 2011

Becoming My Mother, Part II

She always had a pair of desert boots. They were stylish when she was in college, and have come in and out of fashion ever since. She had the original version, taupe suede with laces and crepe soles.  Every so often, she'd get a new pair.

I never had a pair. But I was idly paging through a catalog, and there, a pair just called out - buy me! The ones I bought are black leather, with a buckle. But still. Desert boots. I now own a pair of desert boots. They're very comfortable.

Like I said, I seem to be becoming my mother.

I'd better dye my hair blue again.

03 November 2011

Teeth, Anxiety and Coffee

I rather loathe Klout, but gosh, I really do like mocking it, especially by handing out +K in cookies and tacos and other delectable foodstuffs.

It seems to be mocking me too. Look! People think I've influenced them about teeth, anxiety and coffee!

It gets better when you drill deeper: I'm also influential about batteries and beer.

Batteries, yes, I know all about batteries - we've just gone five days without power. [It's back, it's back, we have light again!]

But beer? I can't remember the last time I had a beer.

You know what? Klout is horseshit.

I'm not even going into the part about how Klout is sketchy and probably using your information for nefarious ends. Beware.

02 November 2011

Let There Be Light. Please?

As my husband said, it’s like we’re living in a two room house with a sleeping loft.

Yes, we haven’t had power since Saturday afternoon. Halloween was cancelled, there was no school for two days, and there are tree limbs down all over the place.

It could be a lot worse; we have a generator. It’s powering the refrigerator and the freezer – so no lost food. We can plug the furnace in, so we have heat. There are extension cords snaking up from the basement, so there are two electric lights – one in the kitchen, one migrating back and forth from the dining room to the living room. A rotating cast of kitchen appliances gets plugged in as needed: coffee grinder, coffee maker, toaster, rinse and repeat. And – oh to glory be – the router is plugged in, so we have wi-fi in the house. We have hot water, because we never replaced the old inefficient hot water heater with a spiffy tankless one that needs power for its controls. And the gas stove works, if you light it with a match.

Oh, to be sure, there are problems. The dishwasher is full of dirty dishes. There’s a load of half-done laundry stuck in the washer – because it’s a front loader, it won’t open without power. I’m running out of clean pants. There’s no electricity upstairs, so we’re brushing our teeth by candlelight. But really? They’re first world problems.

I’m grateful for all that we do have.

That said, I really hope that ConEd makes good on its promise of full restoration by midnight tonight. I’m not holding my breath though: ConEd’s outage map says that there’s only one house out in my entire neighborhood – something I know to be patently untrue. And the town police just sent out an alert urging people without power to call ConEd – and that "If you do not call the number your power may not get restored."

Is that some kind of veiled threat?

Maybe it's time to go off the grid.

01 November 2011


So you probably think that because I titled this post "Banks" it's going to be all about Occupy Wall Street and dissing capitalist pigs. Wrong! It is about banking, though, but banking at home, not in an institution.

For some reason, the beginning of third grade seemed to me to be the right time to finally institute an allowance for the girl. We've had lots of discussions about money: we involved her in allocating charitable gifts last winter, we've discussed earning and saving at length because of her burning desire for yet another American Girl doll, we talk about what things cost. Just last weekend, I took her to the mall because she had no jeans that fit. The first store we went in had a pair that didn't fit too well AND cost $34. We ended up at The Children's Place where we got two pairs, for less than $25 for both. She was impressed by that, and understood that we spent less and got more.

Back to the allowance. For the most part, the girl doesn't need any spending money. It's not like she's out and about and in need of pizza money or subway fare. But she does need to learn about it - all aspects. You earn money. You spend money. Ideally, you also save money, and if you're able, you share money. Back in August at the BlogHer conference, I went to a lunch put on by a credit card company touting a card for teens called, flipply, Bill My Parents. Despite the name, it's actually a pretty good concept, though the girl REALLY doesn't need a credit card. But one thing led to another, and I started thinking about the allowance thing again.

A seven year old is dealing with money in a tangible way, not via online banking or Quicken* or old-fashioned green ledger paper. She needs to be able to parcel it out physically, as a way to learn that some money is for now, and some is for later. It seemed to me that the best way to do that would be with the kind of piggy back that lets you split your hard cold cash into several categories.

There are a few options out there - some offer three divisions, others have four. There's the Money Savvy Pig - a plastic piggy bank with four compartments, for Spend, Save, Donate and Invest. But to me, the difference between saving and investing is going to be lost on a seven year old. Invest? Like, for retirement? I don't think so.

moonjarThe Moonjar lets you split your money into three compartments: Spend, Save and Share. Share might better be called Charity, at least that's how I described it to the girl, whereupon she pointed out that Spend, Save and Share all started with "S". Can't argue with alliteration.

We've had her using the Moonjar for the past six weeks or so. We've been giving her a dollar a week, and sometimes she gets to keep the change if we give her a couple of bucks to buy a muffin at the Farmers Market. We've been a little loosey-goosey about the percentages to go into each of the compartments, but she's getting it, conceptually, and accepts the fact that she can only spend out of the Spend box. What happens come the end of the year and it's time to Share, to make gifts to charity? I don't know yet. I do know that it's important to us that she learn that as a concept - hell, I've been working in non-profit organizations for my whole life.

I like the Moonjar. I like that its three compartments can be clumped together, or taken apart. I'm not sure how long the butch rubber-band is going to last - a velcro strap might work better. But it's living on our kitchen table, easily accessible, accepting coins and bills, and - I hope - helping my kid learn more about money.

And, for you? The very kind people at the Moonjar company have offered a Moonjar for one of you fine people. They asked that you go to their Facebook page and “like” it, and/or share below how you are starting the Money Conversation with your kids. If you go over and "like" the FB page, come back and tell me or I won't know. Comments will close at the end of the day on November 6.

*Quicken has become like a Kleenex-like generic to me - all computerized accounting is "Quicken". In fact, I no longer use Quicken because they stopped supporting the Mac. Actually, there's still a product out there, but they dumbed it down like you wouldn't believe - it is now an utter piece of crap. We've switched to Moneydance; it's working pretty well. But if I'd used Moneydance up there in that fourth paragraph, you probably wouldn't have known what I was talking about. 

Disclosure: The same very kind people at the Moonjar company gave my daughter a free Moonjar. No one paid me to write anything, or to host this giveaway. All the opinions are my own.