29 April 2012

She Rocks.

She's such a badass.

Yesterday, I took her to her first protest rally - Unite Against the War on Women. She ate it up. She was delighted to march, participate, hold up her sign, and wear the tee-shirt that a stranger gave her.

And today? Today, for the first time, she rode her two-wheeler around and around the train station parking lot, all by herself. She even skinned both knees and one elbow, but got back on the bike and kept riding.


I'm so proud of her.

25 April 2012

The Thing With Feathers and Fence Parts

If hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul, then what is the thing with mouse traps that lives in a drawer with the fence parts?

Does it go without saying that the feathers and oil cloth and their fancy papered boxes lived on the third floor, and the cast iron and mouse traps were relegated to a grimy old file cabinet in the cellar?

23 April 2012

Random PR Fails

Someone sent me a wouldn't you like me to write a guest post for you? email, which included links to other such work. No, I didn't click through, but I'm still gagging at the fact that one link made reference to "urine controlled video games". No. No. No. How many kinds of wrong is that?

If you send me an email offering me a book to read, and I write back and say yes, why don't you send me the book? Conversely, why do you send me books that I didn't ask for?

I do believe that the PR flack pitching a story about Kalamazoo, who thinks I'm "an important local blogger in Michigan", ought to know how to spell "Kalamozoo" [sic].

An underwear company wrote to tell me all about a new product line which includes "sweats, socks and T-Shirts made of post-consumer product or renewable energy". Got that? Socks made of renewable energy. I'm sure they put a bounce in your step.

That is all. For now. Do you have any to share?

20 April 2012

Searching, Searching

Once again, it's time for recent search words that have brought people to my blog:

  • energy that you learn in third grade houghton mifflin science discovery works
  • smashed up red mini
  • 20% white vinegar
  • 6 year old girls swimming
  • beaker chemical reaction foam
  • cute cuddly kittens
  • ?????
  • naked woman covered in
  • apple clafoutis julia child
  • square people
  • boys school tights
  • wall to wall shag carpeting
  • lava girl
  • name a kind of apple

I have not smashed up my red Mini, baking soda and vinegar makes a nice foaming reaction and would probably be a good third grade science project, kittens are always cute and cuddly, we do not have wall to wall shag, I am fond of Esopus Spitzenberg apples though I'd rather eat them raw than use them in Julia's clafouti, and yes, someone from Russian got to my blog by searching for five question marks in a row.

18 April 2012

Gas and Taxes

I've been thinking about gas prices ever since we ended up using a credit card to buy $5 worth of gas at a station charging $5.21 a gallon for high test. We were perilously low, blink blink blink, but only needed enough to get a few miles closer to home, where the gas is expensive enough, but not $5.21/gallon expensive. Or really, let's round up and call it $5.22/gallon - who do they think they're fooling with their nine tenths of a cent?

But here's the thing. In the grand scheme of things, gas isn't expensive enough; it ought to cost more, because it should be taxed to the hilt. I did a quick and dirty google search to try and suss out the tax situation, that is, what part of the price of gas is tax related. What I came up with is so all-over-the-map and apples to oranges as to be pretty much useless, but here's a sampling, of just New York:

50.8¢ / gallon

49.0¢ / gallon

63.4¢ / gallon

49.0¢ / gallon

44.25¢ / gallon

To further complicate matters, two of the above links rank the states by tax burden. But the Tax Foundation puts New York first, and Bankrate says "people in North Carolina pay the highest in state and federal gas taxes, at 57.55 cents per gallon. Georgians pay the lowest, at 25.9 cents per gallon." So, who knows? Gas taxes seem to lack any transparency.

For argument's sake, let's say that the gas tax in New York amounts to 50¢ a gallon. If gas costs $5/gallon, that means the tax is about 10% of the cost, and the fuel portion is about $4.50/gallon. In England, taxes on gas are about 60% of the price at the pump. Extrapolating out from the UK numbers, and assuming a base, untaxed fuel price of $4.50/gallon, gas in the US would be about $10.62/gallon if taxes were 60% of the price.

$10.62/gallon might well make people think twice about what kind/size/weight car to drive, and maybe even about driving at all. Right?

The other thing that's happened in the past year or so, though not everywhere, is that there's been a resurgence of cash vs. credit pricing. Honestly, I don't know how the gas stations get away with it - isn't charging more for credit card usage illegal? I suppose they argue that it's a cash discount - but isn't a cash discount essentially the same thing as a credit card surcharge? And they've got you in a bind - the more expensive the gas is, the more money it takes to fill the tank, and I don't know about you, but I charge everything and hardly use cash except at the farmers market. And at five bucks a gallon, putting 20 gallons in the tank is, yes Virginia, one hundred smackeroos, which I don't like carrying around on a regular basis.

Incidentally, high gas prices aren't the President's fault. They're a result of market factors. And not that it's going anywhere, given the hot rhetoric surrounding taxation, but as Richard Thaler points out "at least two of the candidates have shown that they understand the underlying economics. In the past, both President Obama and Mr. Romney have acknowledged that higher gas prices have an upside: they give car owners the right incentives, and if the high prices stem in part from higher fuel taxes, the deficit can be trimmed."

Right. Higher gas prices would be a good thing on multiple fronts.

I guess I'll buy a folding bicycle instead.

16 April 2012

Sleeping Upstairs with Florence

There was a post on the BlogHer site not too long ago, titled "The Suitcase Rule: What's Your Approach to Teen Sex?"

Now, I'm not a teenager, and I won't have a teenager for another five years, but the title was provocative enough that I read the post. It turned out to be a book review, of a scholarly book called Not Under My Roof: Parents, Teens, and the Culture of Sex, "comparing Dutch and American views on adolescent sexuality".

Except for one incident, not involving me, I don't remember any times in which the subject of sex amongst young people was broached, ever so tangentially, while I was growing up. Perhaps I have a faulty memory, but it just wasn't talked about. And shouldn't it be? Isn't it healthier to acknowledge a reality, instead of pretending it's not going to happen? Isn't it better to be prepared than to try and dictate abstinence?

It does give one pause, contemplating the sex life of one's children. They're so close to you for so long, you're so intimate with them. You change their diapers and wash their private bits, you nurse them, you cuddle them when they fall down go boom. And bit by bit, they grow apart, they become other. And then one day...

Apparently the Dutch are less prudish about the sex lives of teenagers than most Americans are, and it seems to be a good thing. Not Under My Roof's author, Amy Schalet, had an editorial in the Times last year, titled "The Sleepover Question". I'm guessing that you can skip the book and get the gist of her argument by reading the editorial, which ends thusly:

Unlike the American teenagers I interviewed, who said they felt they had to split their burgeoning sexual selves from their family roles, the Dutch teens had a chance to integrate different parts of themselves into their family life. When children feel safe enough to tell parents what they are doing and feeling, presumably it’s that much easier for them to ask for help. This allows parents to have more influence, to control through connection.

Sexual maturation is awkward and difficult. The Dutch experience suggests that it is possible for families to stay connected when teenagers start having sex, and that if they do, the transition into adulthood need not be so painful for parents or children.
That said, the book sounds pretty interesting.

12 April 2012

Have You Had Your Oatmeal Today?

For breakfast this morning, we had oatmeal. Because it was a work day, it was "fast oatmeal"; it took about 10 minutes from the time that the girl asked for it to the time the bowls plunked down on the table. Sometimes on the weekend, we do "slow oatmeal", the steel cut kind that takes a half an hour to cook. "Slow oatmeal" is more delicious, but "fast oatmeal" is better suited to getting out of the house on time.

Besides the fact that oatmeal is tasty and filling, it’s also good for you – low in sugar, high in fiber. A serving of “fast oatmeal”, made from a ½ cup of dry oatmeal, and with a teaspoon of brown sugar and a ¼ cup of 2% milk, has about 200 calories in it – and it’s a good filling breakfast, it'll keep you 'til lunch. As a bonus, the oatmeal provides 4 grams of dietary fiber, you know, to keep your insides nicely scruffed.

Later in the day, I had an oat-based drink. A what? A PR agency asked if I wanted to try it, so I said sure, because I do try to keep an open mind, well, within reason anyway. I'm pretty sure I'd turn down a case of Dinty Moore beef stew, and you will never talk me into frozen TV dinners or fat-free ice cream, ever.

So this oat stuff. It's called Sneaky Pete's, because they are sneaking oat fiber into a poor unsuspecting beverage. I tried the "Mango Mystique" flavor, and I had to look at the label several times, because it did not taste like mango, no way. It tasted like really really sweet peach jellybeans with a long chemical aftertaste. Now, if I'm going to drink something that is ostensibly healthy and tastes like peach, I'm going to want it to have peaches in it. (Or mangoes, as the case may be.)

Here are the ingredients:

Filtered water, Erythritol (natural sweetener), Evaporated Cane Juice [also known as sugar], Oat Bran Concentrate (avena sativa), Citric Acid, Natural Mango Flavor with other Natural Flavors, Stevia Extract (natural sweetener).

Ah. Three different sweeteners (two of which aren't sugar) and no fruit. Also, some of those "natural flavors", which may well have been made in one of those factories along the New Jersey Turnpike. And fiber, in the form of oat bran concentrate - providing 3 grams of dietary fiber. So what we have, folks, is fiber-enriched mostly-artifically-sweetened flavored water.

I'm all for fiber, no question. But "sneaking" it into things like drinks? How about eating real food, people, like a bowl of oatmeal washed down with a cup of coffee?

While I did receive four bottles of Sneaky Pete's for free, nobody paid me to write about it, and my opinions are very much my own.

09 April 2012

September Song

Oh, it's a long, long while
From May to December
But the days grow short
When you reach September
And the autumn weather
Turns the leaves to flame
And I haven't got time
For the waiting game

And, the days dwindle down
To a precious few
September, November
And these few precious days
I'll spend with you
These precious days
I'll spend with you.

Our Joyce scholar died last week.

Before my husband and I got married, there was the complicated issue of who was going to perform the ceremony. Being that neither of us is religious, or conversely, that both of us are atheist, it didn't really seem right to have a cleric performing the ceremony. I had the idle idea that we call in the three wise men from the neighborhood: the Methodist minister from across the street, the rabbi from next door, and the Joyce scholar from down the hill - it could have been a gloriously high-minded cross-cultural mess. When I called Eddie's widow to offer my condolences, I told her about this not-acted-upon scheme we'd had. She laughed uproariously, and said he'd have liked that very much.

Eddie's obituary was in the Times yesterday, and reading it, I was struck by how much they didn't know about him.

  • He read books while driving the car.
  • He knew a lot of stuff, really, a deep and catholic amount of stuff. 
  • I don't think I ever saw him wearing anything but a button down shirt.
  • He played the piano at parties, so everyone could sing along. His gift was that he never stopped, continuing on even when he made a mistake. He played "O Holy Night" and "The Holy City" and "Adeste Fidelis" and we belted them out and Christmas will never be the same.
  • He told me which sections of Don Quixote I could skip, and even armed with that knowledge, I never did finish reading it.
  • For years, he ran a book club of sorts: Eddie's class - an informal class, for serious study (with lots of cookies). Everyone in town went, or at least, all of my mother's friends.
  • He learned to drive as an adult, and he honked at stop signs, just in case.
  • He was idiosyncratic and fabulous and as low-key as they come.
  • At the end of every raucous singing-aloud party, he'd quietly play "September Song" and slip away.

Rest in peace, Eddie.Thank you for the precious days.

06 April 2012

Scenes of Spring

Tulips on Park Avenue.

Dyeing hard boiled eggs.

Teaching the girl to play poker.

What can I tell you? It was the last three pictures I'd taken with my iPhone...the juxtaposition made me laugh.

05 April 2012

Letter to a Real Person

On the last school break, when we were in DC in February, the kid lost her iPhone. (Lest you think I'm a crazy person for giving an expensive cell phone to an 8 year old, it wasn't really an iPhone anymore; it was one of our old ones, with no phone service, so it worked like an iPod touch.) She was crushed when she lost it, and spent some time whining about her misery, until she rediscovered her DS, that is. (She's all about the serial attachments.) However, she did kind of miss emailing her friends about petty dramas!!!!!! (All of her emails include more exclamation points than strictly necessary. In fact, she's probably used up her lifetime exclamation point quota.) I mentioned this to my boss, who kindly excavated his old iPhone from a desk drawer, and she was complete again. (This was before all the canvassing about the American Girl dolls.) Anyway, I told her she had to write a thank you note.

I love how the first paragraph is so, so, so, so, so very tidy, and the PS is exuberant and misspelled and hopeful. (Also, my ears bleed just thinking about violin practice next year. Why? Why did she pick the violin? What did I do to deserve that?)

Oh, and she's writing a book. She may need a blog of her own.

04 April 2012

More Posts I'm Never Going To Write

Still cleaning. Found a pile of paper, articles and whatnot, things that had got me thinking that's a blog post. So here. Here is "this is not a post, this is just a list":

First off, a letter from a teacher (a/k/a The Book Whisperer) about why kids should read at home, and why she doesn't require book logs.

Lots of people have lots to say about reading logs.

Is it possible to motivate students? "Let the students decide except when there’s a good reason why we have to decide for them."

She "called bacon on it".

It's not just about the education; it's good for families.

And, finally:

If you read nothing else, read the last one AND all of the comments, which range from "babies are tasty" to "gross" to "all animals eat the placenta" to "it's the best thing ever" to ... oh, just go read them yourself.

03 April 2012


I've been spring cleaning - both at home, and in the office - filing, tossing, organizing and filing. Tucked in an unmarked folder in the office, I found a pile of dress designs.

The girl had drawn them a couple of years ago - when she was a size seven - and had sent them to work with me with the instruction that I get the costume shop to make them all for her. Um, right. I can't even imagine what it would have cost to have had even one of the dresses handmade by the union ladies, though I suppose the price would have depended on just how much beading and fancy work there was. So, no dresses, just designs.

I am, though, a tiny bit wistful about the whole thing, because the costume shop is no longer. All the pins were vacuumed up, all the irons were unplugged, all the sewing machines were idled, and all the magic dissipated.

01 April 2012

Mommy - Girlie Day

To kick off spring break, the girl and I went on an expedition to NYC.

We started off with lunch at Brooklyn Taco in the Essex Street market (where she didn't eat her quesadilla because they're better at school), detoured to Economy Candy (where $20 buys heaven), and went on a fabulous tour at the tenement museum (where oddly the girl was the only child on the tour, and other than a guy in his 30s, everyone was older than me).

Then we headed uptown for the obligatory stop at the American Girl doll store. I refused to buy her a new doll, and she didn't have enough money for one, but I told her she could buy whatever she could afford. (She had a gift card from Christmas, and a wad of singles. Earlier in the day, I'd cashed in $7 worth of change so she wouldn't have to lug it around.) She picked out a new outfit (Kit's floral print dress, from the 1930s because one apartment at the tenement museum was from the 30s) and a Feel-Better kit with ace bandages and crutches and casts (which she is hell bent on applying to the cats).

Our last stop was a ballet performance that Julia's daughter was in, and then we headed back to Grand Central for a slice of pizza, another glimpse of Pegasus, and the train home.

Many miles. Much tiredness. A whole lot of yes.

I think we should do it annually.