Wednesday, June 30, 2004

obesity and overconsumption

I found this article really fascinating. I don't know if we're too fat, or how closely related fat and health are--some of this stuff just sounds like common sense, though. As in, it's better to exercise than not exercise. No, duh!

But this was what really caught my eye:

Overconsumption in America is closely equated with class: The higher up you go the more you consume. The only area in which consumption is inversely related to class is caloric overconsumption. So the American elite project anxiety about the fact that they're massively overconsuming economically and materially through a disgust for fat, lower-class people.

America is just too big. We throw our weight around, our cars are too big, our shopping malls are too big, our houses are too big. Our anxiety about fat is our anxiety about our own bigness. But it's a projection that is so inappropriate when our cars weigh 700 pounds more than they did 15 years ago -- which is politically and economically and environmentally far more troubling than the fact that our bodies on average weigh eight pounds more than they used to 15 years ago.

Now there's some provocative and interesting analysis. Americans are usually so afraid of talking about class. Thanks, Paul Campos, for raising the issue.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

another meet

Swim meets are better when it's sunny and pleasant out, as it was today. Things were a lot less chaotic than the first two meets and Nick actually won his heat! A first for him. He's still pretty slow, but he is improving steadily. It's fun for me to watch him get better. As a kid (and even as an adult) I rarely did things that I wasn't good at the first time. This meant I didn't ride a bike until I was 12, didn't really swim much at all, still don't enjoy water sports, dancing, horseback riding, playing piano... you name it. Piano I stuck with for several years--after all, once you learn the notes you can actually pick out a tune when you sit down. But the rest--I gave up early on things. I actually quit ballet twice, two successive years. (Then my mother caught on and I stopped signing up.) So I don't really know what it means to start from scratch and improve in the way I've seen Nick do it. It's fun to watch--and, in a small way, even inspiring.

Monday, June 28, 2004

two weeks in a row...

Mariah made dinner again tonight: parmesan chicken (her old standby), roasted green beans with almonds, and for dessert a cake that Nick & I had baked a few days ago, and espresso chip ice cream. I could get used to this...

Saturday, June 26, 2004

feminism and the movies

I've just recently seen both the original Stepford Wives and Mona Lisa Smile, and I've got to say, Hollywood feminism has lost a lot of ground. The Stepford Wives is over the top, yes, but it raises a serious issue in the so-called "gender wars" and doesn't let up. It doesn't have a happy ending; Katharine Ross ends up an animatronic wife just like everyone else. The movie knows that men are threatened by feminism, and suggests that some men might just as soon turn back the clock.

Well, Mona Lisa Smile does turn back the clock. It shows us a version of the 1950s in which a feminist "infiltrates" Wellesley college and gets her comeuppance. I mean, there are glimmers of something else, but in the end it makes the whole issue personal rather than institutional and therefore lets everyone off the hook. The Julia Stiles character gets to "choose" marriage (and presumably motherhood) over Yale Law School because "you always taught us to make our own choices, and this is mine." Well, yes and no. How much support would she, or any woman at the time, have for the opposite choice? Unfortunately the male characters are so shallow, so one-dimensional, that we can't really tell whether this is a good choice or not. The women who end up pursuing their own interests are 'damaged" in some way--the Kirsten Dunst character is divorced, and the Maggie Gyllenhall character has obvious father issues and is, moreover, both Jewish and a "slut." (While the movie doesn't imply that these are related, it's just a fact that she's the only Jewish character and the only really overtly sexual one...)

Yes, the Julia Roberts character seems to have real options--she's turned down at least one proposal, and freely chosen to leave another man, but again, there's no critique of any institutional realities. Nor do we know what she's going to do for money when she gets to Europe at the end of the movie.

I know, I know, it's just entertainment. And if there were lots of entertainment out there that took up women's history, and this were just one, I wouldn't be upset. In fact, I'm not really upset--just noting that this is the way Hollywood seems to work. Take a big institutional problem, personalize it, and then imply that the personal solution will do. Dickens did pretty much the same thing in his fiction over 150 years ago, so it's an honorable and time-tested tradition. But it's one-sided at best and dishonest at worst.

I tend to hate teacher movies, by the way. Especially English teacher movies. (Dead Poets Society comes to mind.) I hate how we romanticize teachers in movies and then don't pay them what they're worth, as if their love of their students was somehow supposed to make up for that. Julia Roberts, in this movie, seems only to teach one class, not to do research, and to have ample funds for all kinds of clothes that were probably not even available in Welleley, MA in 1954. But I digress.

For the sake of full disclosure I should also say that the movie had me tearing up a couple of times, including at the end when Kristen Dunst and Julia Roberts finally reached some understanding. But then I think I'm really weirdly hormonal right now--is this perimenopause? Honestly, I think there's some violin cue that goes directly to my tear ducts, bypassing my brain entirely. It happened at the end of Saved!, too, but that's for another time.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

how cool is this?

So Mariah, age 14, has decided she wants to cook dinner for us once a week. She has a fairly limited repertoire so far, but is more than willing to expand. Until yesterday, her succesfully completed dishes included chicken parmesan, a spinach/bacon salad and lemon linguine that she got from watching Nigella on tapes my sister sent, and calzone from a kids' cookbook my mom gave her years ago. Last winter, I received Nigella Lawson's Forever Summer, and Mariah started browsing it yesterday for more recipes. She came up with lemony shrimp salad--sort of like a caesar salad with shrimp, only the dressing is (duh) lemony. And then I gave her No Knead to Need, because Suzanne Dunaway's rosemary filoncino is not only easy but to die for. And then she made a peach/raspberry crisp from a recipe my mom gave her, and we ate like royalty. She's now promised to make dinner every Monday. OK, so I have to take her shopping and be around in case of need (she still has trouble taking things out of the oven), but still--I'll take it. Especially because she likes to eat salad that she makes, and is otherwise close to allergic to vegetables.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

swim team

Nick joined the swim team this year. He's six, and doesn't swim too well, but all the parents told us that it was the perfect time to start. He'd learn to swim, have fun, yada yada. So far, though, practice has been a lot of standing in line waiting his turn. Somehow he doesn't seem to mind--maybe because all the kids get suckers at the end. Maybe because being in line with your buddies is not such a bad way to spend fifteen minutes here and there. I don't quite get it, but he seems to like it.

So last night was the first swim meet. Meets start at six, with warmups at five. We got to the pool (it was an away meet) at 4:45, just as a huge storm broke. Thunder and lightning crashed around us as rain fell in buckets. We were told that the meet would probably be held anyway; they wait half an hour after the last thunder is heard before letting anyone in the pool, so we should wait in our cars until then. Yeah, right. We decided to drive up to the university--Mark needed to check out a book. It would be about a half hour round trip. so we'd be fine even if the thunder stopped right away.

It didn't. As we drove through campus, we nearly hydroplaned a couple of times in the downpours. The road was flooding. Mark went up the long flight of stairs to the library, and we watched a waterfall pour down it. Mariah began complaining of a headache so we drove her home. Lightning jagged through the sky. When we got home I looked up the number for the pool; it was still thundering overhead. The guy who answered the phone said the thunder had stopped there and they'd be starting warmups soon, so we got back in the car and headed out again. It was now almost six.

Mariah stayed home to nurse her headache. By the time we got to the pool, the sun was shining and you'd never have known that a violent storm had just blown through, except we'd seen a bad car wreck and several tree limbs down on our way. Someone was even parked in the lot with their top down!

The scene at the pool was chaotic. Kids and parents all over the place. Most of the kids had "Go Granite" or "Dangerous When Wet" in sharpie marker on their backs. The little kids huddled together nervously. They hadn't started warming up yet, so Nick went and sat with the other "mini-mites" and waited.

Eventually, he swam. He was in the second heat of little kids doing the 25-yard freestyle. He jumped in (not off the blocks), and almost immediately veered to the right so he could grab the lane line. (They let the little kids do that.) He probably ended up on the lane line four or five times in the heat, but he eventually finished (last, but who's counting?). He looked wiped out as he came out of the pool--almost as if he couldn't see us.

So that was our first swim meet experience. Despite the late start (it was almost 7 before he was done, and no dinner beforehand) and the thunder and lightning, the crowds and the confusion, he swam his heat and finished, which was the only goal we'd set. Luckily he seems not to mind that he's not winning--in lots of things he's pretty competitive despite not having the skills, and then is devastated when he loses. Not this time, thankfully.

Swimming is its own little world. There are parents who do "strokes and turns," judging to make sure the kids are doing them right. There are timers and runners and announcers and starters and herders (well, that's what I call them--they get the kids from place to place). There are parents who walk in knowing what a 100-yard IM is. We don't live in this world, but we'll be visiting it this summer.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

going away, coming back

Sometimes the worst part of going away is coming back. I had a quick trip to California last week, Wednesday-Sunday, and returned early Monday morning on the redeye. Nick's class party was Monday, so I went to it on very little sleep. I did manage a shower beforehand, which was a very good thing. He was delighted to see me, and I didn't even mind that I got hamburger grease all over my top. (OK, I minded a little, especially since there was coffee all over the clothes I'd worn on the plane. But that's another story.) I didn't last too long at the party, but long enough to have a great conversation with his fabulous teacher, the one who thinks he's a gifted artist. (Nothing better than a teacher who thinks your kid's special.)

But the rest of the week has been tougher. There's a leak in our roof, and another in our car (it's only two years old! What gives?), and it's been raining a lot so this matters. And the house is a wreck--well, it was when I left, so it's hardly news--and I have to get back to work, and the kids need me, and Mark's glad I'm home so I can pick up some of the slack (well, he's glad period, but you know...). So anyway it's been hard, harder than it might have been if I'd stayed home.

And yet I'm glad I went. I went to the Children's Literature Assn. conference, which is always a good place to be: lots of people who take children's literature seriously and talk about it with enthusiasm. I heard a fabulous talk by Pam Munoz Ryan, which got me to buy two of her books, and had lots of interesting conversations, great food, etc. And at either end of the conference a visit with my sister and her terrific family, including my amazing nephew Ben (who calls me Ya-Bee, how great is that?). I gave a talk at the conference on Charlotte's Web and feminist theology and it went well enough that I'm pretty sure I can keep at this project for a while. So all that was good.

But it's tiring getting over jet lag and going on with your life at the same time.