Tuesday, May 31, 2005

party all the time

We had a party this weekend. We couldn't remember the last time we had had one, though we do remember hosting a big bash in the spring of 1999 after I got tenure. Could that possibly have been the last party? Anyway, it was obviously time for another one.

But having a party is no small undertaking. First, we had to clean the house. This involved weeding the bookshelves, in the (as it turned out) vain hope that doing so would make room for all the books on the floor to be shelved. Mmm, not so much. But still, the shelves now actually hold books we might read, or have read and would read again, instead of random stuff that we can't remember owning. Well, there's a lot of that, too, but at least it's been looked at.

Then there was lots of throwing away. I am a clutterer, and I can't bear to throw paper away in case I might need it again. But when every horizontal surface in the house is covered with paper, to the extent that said horizontal surfaces can no longer be seen, and dinner at the dining room table is an impossibility, then I can throw stuff away. Bags and bags of it. So there are many bags of paper to be recycled, many books to be freecycled or otherwise disposed of, and much clearer surfaces. Mark then cleaned floors, for which he deserves a medal.

Then there was baking. I can't have a party without baking. This time I decided to make cupcakes, because...well, why not? I made two kinds: lemon cupcakes with lemon cream and cinnamon-scented devil's food cupcakes. For reasons known best to epicurious, the lemon cupcake recipe, doubled, makes twelve cupcakes, while the devil's food recipe, halved, makes 21. That seemed like plenty. I learned the cupcake liners are probably a good thing: I didn't use them (seemed wasteful) and the cupcakes ended up sticking to the plates I put them on. The lemon ones were a tiny bit dry, but that may have been my fault, and the devil's food ones were very tasty, especially with a basic frosting off the back of a confectioner's sugar box. The frosting was a little too sweet so I added some espresso powder to it--yum!

The other baking was bread: the rosemary filoncino from No Need to Knead, and a flatbread made of of the pizza dough recipe from the same book. Both were completely devoured--I especially liked how the flatbread worked out.

Then there were mushrooms and artichoke hearts to marinate. I was a little over-achievey at this point--but I was also trying to keep myself occupied because Mariah was out with friends and wouldn't be back until two a.m. and there was a new driver involved and I needed to think about other things. She came home right on time and all was well, thank you very much. I guess this stuff will get easier.

That was Saturday. Sunday Mark grilled vegetables and I made pesto with grape tomatoes over curly pasta, and there were crackers and cheese and some salami and fresh mozarella and humus and olives and baby carrots and beer and wine and that was enough.

Then, though I carefully put chairs out in the backyard, and tried to spread things around the house, people gathered around the dining room table where all the food was and just stood there. And they talked and ate and drank and complimented the food (yes, this is key) and went away many hours later.

Teenagers hung out listening to Mark's and my old records (yes, we still have a working turntable), children played in the yard, and adults were (mostly) able to enjoy each other and not run around after little ones.

And there were leftovers to eat the next day, and the house is still (relatively) clean and the bookcases still look good.

We may have another party some day.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Reading Report

I've been re-reading the Philip Pullman His Dark Materials trilogy this week. Mostly it's for a paper I'm writing, but I'm enjoying really spending some time with them as well. Pullman's a gorgeous writer, and he says things that surprise me all the time. For example, there's a little paragraph about how good liars aren't necessarily very imaginative. It's an interesting thought. I'm not entirely sure I buy it--or, if I do, I need to know the difference between being a good liar and being a good fiction-writer--but it's intriguing to think about nonetheless.

I'm struck this time by the way he thinks and writes about mothers. In the first book, The Golden Compass, we find out about a mother who is cold and rejecting, who puts her career before her child, and who is cruel and violent to children throughout. In the second book, The Subtle Knife we have a mother who is incompetent, and whose son cares for her. (We have some other failed parents, too, though it might not be their fault.) And in the third book, The Amber Spyglass, the mother from the first one comes back and it's not clear if she's suddenly discovered maternity or if she's faking. There are, I should add, some pretty absent fathers as well, and it's clear we're not meant (I think, anyway) to judge them as harshly as the failed mothers. (The one in book two is actually pretty sympathetic, but she's a failure as a mother nonetheless.) The third book also gives us a former nun, released from her vows but still unmarried and definitely not a mother, as one of the most maternal figures.

I'm not quite sure what to make of this, and it's not terribly relevant to my paper, so I'm just throwing it out there to ponder.

More on successful women, sick husbands

We were talking about this at dinner last night: midlife mama: successful women, sick husbands

Nick hit the nail on the head: "You make more money than Daddy, right, Mommy? And he's really healthy!"

Well, yeah, we like to think so. Of course, as we've already established, I have a truly feminist and egalitarian partner in Mark. So the kids had fun thinking about why people would think that being married to an ambitious woman might negatively affect a man's health. But basically, they thought the report was a crock.

It's such fun raising skeptics.

Children's Lit Book Group: Marmee's Anger

New stuff! I've got both a column and a review up now. Here's the column: Children's Lit Book Group: Marmee's Anger I think I started working the ideas for the column out here in the blog (as I often do). Some of it had to do with my reading of March: A Novel, which I talked about here.

And the review: We Are Not Alone: a review of The Grand Permission: New Writings on Poetics and Motherhood.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

successful women, sick husbands

(edited to fix link)
Via Alas, a blog and Feministing, here's a story to warm your heart: "Research will this week say that the more committed and successful a woman is at work, the worse her partner feels. The findings blame a syndrome called "unfulfilled husband hypothesis" for making men feel inadequate when women stray too far beyond their traditional roles. The man of the house, it seems, is still not cut out for domesticity."Independent News

This one feels to me a lot like the fairy tale one (are you tired of that one yet?) in that the conclusions seem not to match up with the data, if any. Or that the conclusions seem foregone.

Feministing and Alas have already commented, so there's not much to add, but I'd love to see the study of women whose husbands are ambitious (Feministing wants to, too).

And how about the healths of those couples where neither is ambitious and therefore neither makes any money, so they have no health care, no healthy food, etc.? Or are we not supposed to go there? I'd hardly argue that ambition is in and of itself healthy, but certainly for me and many men and women I know, having meaningful work (paid or unpaid--for some it's parenting, others it's throwing pots, others it's something in an office) is essential to our mental, and therefore to some extent our physical, well-being. Or is that just too obvious even to state?

Monday, May 23, 2005

weekend update

Oh, that title. I just remembered Chevy Chase and realized I can't live up to it. So deal.

Purple Belt.
Nick got his in tae kwon do on Saturday. He broke two boards, one with his palm and one with his foot (side kick). I missed the first part of the test because I was supposedly helping out at the church yard sale (I bought stuff--does that count?), but I got to see the board-breaking. Immensely cool.

New Nephew.
He arrived Saturday evening, taking his own sweet time, unlike his older brother. No name yet, but we are confident there will be one eventually.

Mariah's last concert of the year was last night. It ran the gamut from Haydn to "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother," and it all sounded good. How they manage to get that much sound out of that small a group, and with only three male voices, is beyond me. It's been great to see her work at this all year.

Mariah's school is only thirty minutes away, but somehow it's a whole other world down there. We dropped her off for the concert half an hour early so she could put on her robe and warm up, and decided to scout out possible dinner locations. Half an hour later we had found a shuttered and locked Subway, a few fancy-looking places that were closed on Sunday and Monday evenings, and a Pizza Hut. Really, this town is dead. People keep telling us it's experiencing a rebirth, and maybe so, but it's still in the early --shall we say gestational?-- stages. Fortunately friends who live there came to the concert and told us there was indeed another restaurant open on Sundays, The Mad Italian. So we went there.

I am quite certain that the owners of this place call it "Eye-talian." Or maybe just some of the patrons, though certainly our lovely friends who recommended it do not. And, yes, there was a table --fully set for dinner, tablecloth and all, with chairs arranged around it-- on the ceiling. Our very attentive wait-person made sure we were comfortable in our booth (I think she offered twice to find us a larger table if we needed it), dropped off menus, and left us to discuss them. There were lots of reassurances on the menus about how they made their own pasta sauce--am I the only person who doesn't find this reassuring? I kind of assume it, you know? But, no, at every turn there they were again, with their fifteen ingredients and their we-don't-have-to-do-it-this-ways. Fine. Really, I probably should have just ordered it instead of deconstructing the menu.

The wines were burgundy, chablis, and rose. Just like when I was a kid and my parents had burgundy and chablis in jugs! I'm not so snobby about wine (I have a box of pinot grigio in my fridge), but I haven't been in a restaurant that offered that set of choices in twenty years, it seems like. I had the burgundy.

Eventually we ordered. Nick had a small pizza "with extra ingredients." He read it carefully off the menu and the wait-person very kindly did not laugh (points for that) and asked what extra ingredients he wanted. "Pepperoni," he said. She repeated it and wrote it down. "And," he said. "Yes?" "Maybe some sausage, too?" So he got that.

Mariah and I both ordered lemon-garlic shrimp over pasta. Again, this seemed like a blast from the past, along with the wines--I used to order scampi in Italian restaurants all the time, but lately it seems not to be on offer. (And, to be fair, there may have been a wine list that I missed). Mark and Mariah's friend E (along with us for the concert) ordered alfredo-esque things, Mark's with scallops, E's with shrimp.

This is sounding snarkier than I want. The food wasn't bad, after all--it's more that I felt as if we were in a time warp, as if we were still back in the land of red-checkered tablecloths and raffia-wrapped chianti bottles for candle-holders. (Though of course in point of fact this place had neither.) Here, only thirty minutes away, there are restaurants open on Sunday night. There are chain places and independent places and diners and fast food joints and they are all open on Sunday nights--or if they aren't, the place next door is. And there are certainly red-checkered tablecloth Italian joints, but there are other sorts of Italian joints, too, and Thai and Vietnamese and Greek and Mexican and Cuban and lots more. And even at that we complain that it's not good enough, cheap enough, hip enough, but compared to thirty minutes away, we're cutting edge up here. It was a little startling to realize, somehow, that we are privileged. There's no doubt a class thing going on here, too, and I am too tired to explore it now, but will try to take it on before too long...

Thursday, May 19, 2005

brownie bake-off

For a long time, these have been my favorite brownies. Fudgy, rich, delicious. I would add a teaspoon or two of instant espresso powder, and people would always ask for the recipe.

But, you get bored, you know? And you stop using the nice chocolate, and you don't wait for them to cool before you cut them, and they still taste fine, but they're not quite the same as they used to be.

And they sell these little "brownie bites" at our local grocery store that are really tasty. One day I checked the ingredients and noticed that they were made with cocoa powder instead of unsweetened chocolate. And filed that information away.

Then, the other day, I found this recipe. I thought I'd give them a try and see if they did the same fudgy/crispy thing that the ones at our grocery store do. They did. But could they displace my favorites?

I baked a batch of each today, and indeed, they could. And with an extra half cup of chocolate chips, they rock. I have a new favorite brownie recipe.

But I do have to see if I can just melt the butter in the microwave and then stir in the sugar and cocoa powder, instead of doing the whole melt-in-a-bowl-over-simmering-water thing. Because, you know? I'm lazy.

(I also have to note that some years ago my mother gave me a brownie recipe that called for cocoa powder and I immediately converted it to use unsweetened chocolate, because I thought it was somehow cheating to use cocoa powder. But --guess what?--it's not.)

And, yes, I did bake two batches of brownies today. Luckily there's a bake sale that needs donations.

busy week

Somehow it has escaped my notice until now that Nick, who is seven, is becoming a different person, right before my very eyes. Last week he learned to ride his bike. Really ride it, without training wheels and all. He couldn't, and then, the next day, he could.

He's taken a few big spills, too. Big scrape on the elbow, and, scariest of all, he looks like he got almost garrotted by a chain he rode into instead of under. But --though he's normally a pretty big whiner about stuff like this-- he's stoic.

Actually last week I brought him his skateboard to school on afternoon so he could ride it home, and he took a pretty big spill on the way. He got up and brushed himself off, and I said, "you ok? That was a pretty big spill." He said, "I'm ok. If you want to ride a skateboard, you have to be willing to fall sometimes."

Well, OK, then.

Last week he also decided he loved the Harry Potter books. I began reading him the first one on Thursday night. We finished chapter one together, as we had done almost a year ago before he decided that it might be too scary and we should stop. This time, he took the book and read it by flashlight for a while that night, then simply lived inside the book until, Saturday, he finished it. He's now finished the second one, and can't be torn from the third.

So he's a reading, biking, kind of a guy.

The sad thing about the reading (I know, there's not supposed to be a sad thing about the reading) is that he really won't let me read to him right now. He's just too determined to get through these books on his own. And that's fine, but I wasn't really ready to let go of the bed-time reading. Maybe we could just start--oh, I don't know-- The Hobbit?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

I know you don't care about my shoes, but...

As usual, Target comes through for me. About 25% the price of the Merrell sandal (which I couldn't find in local stores anyway). I know, I know, it's a chain store and blah, blah, but Target is my source for ... well, everything.

while I'm at it

Good comments on the whole fairy tale thing here, too.
Bitch | (S)HITLIST: April 2005 Archives

more on that whole fairy tale thing

OK, I missed this posting a couple of weeks ago, so I'll share it now. Read the comments. I still think the "study" is way over-hyped and relies on some very questionable generalizations about fairy tales. But, read the comments...Alas, a blog � Blog Archive � Well I always knew that "fairy tale" stories were crap.

Monday, May 16, 2005

random thoughts

It's Becca's fault: I've fallen in love with these shoes. And I haven't even tried them on yet. Don't they look both comfortable and (almost) chic? Every summer I go on the same quest: the perfect sandal. These came close, but despite my best efforts, I find I still need black sandals. Or, light purple?

In other news, my stats soared yesterday thanks to the link from Dr. B. I'm going to court with S and some other supporters tomorrow; she's got a place to live; she's made some new friends. I'm hoping things will work out, though we'll know more tomorrow. And the family conversations around here have been awfully interesting as a result.

Then again, Desperate Housewives can engender interesting conversations, too. Last night: "Mom, if you were leaving me, what items would you leave for me to remember you by?"

Hmm. A baseball mitt with a note in it?

Friday, May 13, 2005

Friday the 13th

I'm a little nervous about posting this, in case it violates anyone's privacy. I've tried to disguise the folks involved, but I'm not anonymous here and so probably someone could figure it out. But it still seems like an important story, so I'm telling it here. If I get cold feet and take it down later I'll leave the first few paragraphs here up.

It's been a while since I linked to RLP, but this little piece reminded me of something I've been wanting to talk about here for a while. So go read, and come back. Real Live Preacher

Back? OK, so RLP apologizes for the Baptists, or at least for himself as a Baptist. The Episcopalians aren't doing much better. But right now I don't really want to talk about denominations or even about whether God loves gay people (I'm pretty sure she does, but that's not the point here). I want to talk about teenagers and sex and fear.

Did you read Ayelet Waldman's next-to-last column? The one about the boy in prison in Kansas for statutory rape? Something like this is happening to one of Mariah's friends, and it's very scary.

The short version: S (not her real initial) and F (ditto) had been dating for about six months. Important facts: they are both girls, and S is a senior, and 18, while F is a freshman, who is 15. For reasons I have yet to understand, someone decided to inform F's mother, who--in fairly short order--decided to press charges against S for "contributing to the delinquency of a minor." The good part is, that's only a misdemeanour, punishable by up to a year in prison and a $2500 fine. (Statutory rape is worse.) The bad part is: What??!! She found out her daughter was experimenting (let's put it that way--there are other ways, but we'll be euphemistic here) and called the cops?

When is that ever a good idea?

As Ayelet says, we don't think straight (no pun intended) as a society about teenage sexuality. It's scary how scared some people are at the thought that their kids may be sexual beings.

I have to admit, I don't feel all that ready to face this issue myself. F is Mariah's age, and it could easily have been Mariah in this situation: involved with someone three years her senior, more experienced, more intense.

I like to think I wouldn't have called the cops. No, strike that. I know I wouldn't have. Not within hours of even finding out there was a relationship. Not ever, I hope, unless we'd somehow gotten to a situation where I thought someone was in danger. and I wanted a restraining order. And, believe me, in this case it didn't even get close.

S and F have not seen each other since the day the school called in F's parents, except to pass in the hallway once. F has been pulled out of school; S graduates in June. Her court date is Tuesday. I was able to put her in touch with some sympathetic folks who may be able to help her w/legal counsel and housing, sympathy and support. Her mother, alas, thinks it's her job to warn people against her daughter. She tried to warn me. I told her I liked her daughter and would try to help her. She warned F's parents, who apparently acted much as I did for a while, but then--didn't.

I know we need laws to protect children against predators. Or to protect people against them, no matter their age. But I am appalled and bewildered by a system that defines a child as an adult only in order to punish her.

It's been over a week since I first heard about this and I am still not thinking quite clearly. It's clear that S needs help, of course--and is getting it, thanks to some very caring people I know who have stepped up without asking questions. I don't know what kind of help F will get, and I think she'll need some as well.

And for literally the first time ever since Mariah was born, almost 15-1/2 years ago, I find myself wanting to turn back the clock, to return to the easier days of babyhood. Not because I'm not ready to deal with teenage sexuality, but because I don't want this to be the big introduction to it. "Hey, you might be ready. But before you even THINK about it, remember that you could get pregnant, get sick and die, or, hey, get arrested! Now go on, have fun!"

Well, I guess if you don't want kids having (that kind of) fun, that's a pretty effective message.

At least the parenting books can give you some practical advice about colic and night terrors. On this subject, they are silent.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

more on late-night activities

So my comments on flashlight reading seem to be striking a nerve. And the truth is, even more than a flashlight reader, I was a late-night radio listener. Yes, indeed.

Let me explain.

Growing up overseas in the 60s and early 70s, I spent a lot of time listening to Far East Network, which I believe was an arm of Armed Forces Radio. All I know is that we got English-language radio, and I listened to it a lot. Sometimes they broadcast baseball games and my dad and I would listen and keep score on those baseball score cards that are still printed in baseball programs, but that no one seems to know how to use any more. (Except you, Caroline!) I don't remember, myself, though I do know which position is represented by which number.

So I'd listen to the radio a lot.

Especially at night. Every night at 9:00, I believe, they would play two half-hour radio dramas. I listened to Gunsmoke and Have Gun, Will Travel one night; The Great Gildersleeve and Fibber McGee & Molly another. I think The Shadow was too scary for me so I didn't listen on that night. I don't remember the names of the other shows, but I think the comedy and western nights were my two favorites. I had no idea that I was listening to relics of an earlier time--I thought this was current American media, a way to keep up with things back home. I've always been a little "off" with American pop culture--maybe this is why?

I kept a little transistor radio under my pillow to listen. I was supposed to be sleeping. I could do this with the lights out, of course, and, as far as I know, no one knew.

A few years later, back in the States, I took my little red transistor radio and my alarm clock to Williamsburg with me on our class trip, and left both under my pillow in the hotel. Never got them back. I'm pretty sure that was the end of my late-night radio listening.

Friday, May 06, 2005

where was I?

Well, that week disappeared in a haze of grading and cool weather. One minute I'm blogging away about fairy tales, the next I'm gone.

I wanted to add to some of what Becca's been saying about her reading girl. I've got an obsessive reader, too. A trip to the library with Nick guarantees that for days, he'll be reading under the covers at night by flashlight, poring over the pages of his "graphic novels" (I think they're just fat comic books--is there an important distinction here?) and hiding them when I come in.

It's that last part that worries me just a little. Like my kids, I was an obsessive reader, reading while dressing, walking, talking, eating...I dropped more than my share of books in the shower, too. In the mornings when my mom would call up the stairs to see if I was ready to go, my answer would always be "Almost!" as I got one leg out of bed, book in hand, to start getting dressed.

So maybe that was deceptive, but it seems on another order from hiding the book and pretending to be asleep, which is what Nick did the other night when, hearing the pages turning, I went into his room at 10:30 to see what was up. (This is a kid whose bedtime is 9:00, and who sleeps until 8:00 am and is still hard to awaken.) He lay there quietly in the dark, breathing deeply while I called his name--quietly, not wanting to awaken him if he really was asleep and I'd just misheard. (Misheard what, though? The cat, reading?)

Fifteen minutes later I heard it again and then I wasn't quite so subtle. I reached under the bedclothes and extracted the book and the flashlight and confiscated them.

And he was fine in the morning, so I mostly let it go. What kind of mom, after all, complains about her kid reading too much? To see the news--and, frankly, to read some of the papers I've been reading lately--American kids are practically allergic to reading, and we should be doing all we can to support it.

Worse things, after all, could be happening. But I'm not buying batteries for the flashlight, I'll tell you that.