Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Classic Female Literary Characters

I tried to do this quiz just now: Quiz - Which Classic Female Literary Character Are you?

I really wanted to do it. Dr. B. did it; so did some other smart bloggers. It looked funny and cute. I was hoping for Elizabeth Bennet, but a little afraid I'd get Dorothea Brooke. Still, Dorothea has many good qualities. It was worth a try.

But I just couldn't do it.

Partly, it was pedantry. Question number one asked me to choose an adjective to describe myself, and the choices included "independant." Umm, no.

But then it went on. Question two, for example, asked: What are your views on love? The answers were:
Love? Bah humbug.
Love can make your life miserable.
I'm too young to think about such things.
Love...I find it ridiculous.
I LOVE love! It's so...romantic!
I'm not here to deal with love, though I'd like it someday.
There's no one good enough for me to love.
I'm incapable of love.
Sometimes I get carried away with love...

Can I choose "none of the above"?

Apparently not. The questions went on, with marriage clearly in the future, and money or love questions predominating. I tried to go through and see if I could get it to tell me I am Alice*, from Alice in Wonderland. I got Beth March instead. Whoops! (I did describe myself as "assertive," which I would have thought would disqualify me for Beth...)

And then it dawned on me. (OK, with help from Becca.) I can't be a classic female literary character. I'm too old, too married, too much a mother. Being a heroine is, then, right out.

Whew! What a relief. But what if the quiz were "which famous literary mother are you"? Would I be Elizabeth Bennet's mother? (Perish the thought.) Snow White's lovely stepmother? Let's see, we could add The Giving Tree (mother figure), maybe the Debra Winger character from Terms of Endearment (yes, it was a novel first), Charlotte Haze from Lolita, someone from Philip Roth... Could I even come up with enough options?

Don't answer that. I think I'll give up online quizzes for a while.

*Actually, Alice isn't an option. There are three Austen heroines (Emma, Elizabeth Bennet, and Marianne Dashwood), two Brontes (Jane Eyre and Catherine Earnshaw), and Beth March, Scarlett O'Hara, Anna Karenina, and Estella from Great Expectations.

Mama, Ph.D.

Call for Submissions: Mama, Ph.D

Women Write about Motherhood and the Academy

Edited by Caroline Grant and Elrena Evans

The academic year 2001-2002 marked the first time that American universities granted over half of their earned Ph.Ds to women. Yet in that same year, over 70% of faculty teaching at the nation’s top institutions were male. (Wilson, Robin. “Where the Elite Teach, It's Still a Man's World.” Chronicle of Higher Education 51 (2004): A8.) American universities consistently publish glowing reports on glossy papers stating their commitment to diversity in the workplace, showing statistics of female hires as proof of their success. But the facts remain: women in the university make up a disproportionately large number of adjunct and non-tenure-track faculty, while the majority of tenure-track positions are granted to men. Women who do achieve tenure-track placement tend to report slow advancement, income disparity, and lack of job satisfaction when compared to their male colleagues.

The disequilibrium between male and female university faculty is perhaps seen at its strongest when looking at those who choose to be both professors and parents. Like in many other workforces, mothers in the academy stand at a significant disadvantage to their male and/or childless peers, as they struggle to balance the vagaries of academic life with the demands of biology, reproduction, and offspring. Women who choose to embrace both halves of this divide – the body and the brain – often find themselves caught between the demands of their families and the demands of the academy.

We are looking for essays from women who have faced, in any way, the challenges of raising or considering a family within an academic setting. We wish to hear stories from students, professors, and adjunct faculty, writing about their experiences having children, delaying children, or choosing not to have children at all. We are seeking essays about how women's positions in the academy have influenced their decisions about mothering, and how their positions as potential mothers, in turn, have impacted their academic careers.

Editors: Caroline Grant and Elrena Evans

Deadline: August 30, 2006

Length: 1,500 to 4,000 words. Feel free to query first; complete essays also welcome.

Format: Essays must be typed, double-spaced, and paginated. Please include your name, address, phone number, e-mail address, and a short bio on the last page.

Submitting: Send essays saved as a Word or Rich Text Format file (with .doc or .rtf extension) to submissions@mamaphd.com. Put “Submission” in the subject line.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Friday Food #18: Lemon Pudding Cake

In my memory, childhood meals always involved dessert. Maybe not breakfast (of course not breakfast!), but there were cookies and fruit in the lunchbox and sweets after dinner. We gave them up on Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent (as well as giving up all chocolate and candy) and it seemed to me a real sacrifice. When I think back on all the meals my mother made, balanced meals with, often, two vegetables and a dessert afterwards, I'm amazed at her productivity, as well as at our relatively controlled waistlines. How did she do it? How did we?

Obviously, I haven't figured it out. I make dessert sometimes, but not most nights. And when I do it's often a casual affair: cookies or brownies that I baked for no particular reason, with fruit or ice cream along with. Pies, cakes, and the like tend to mark some kind of occasion. Though, sometimes, they just mark my desire for cake, I have to admit!

Last night I wanted dessert, and I didn't want cookies. (Nor did I think I had time.) I wanted something slighty sweet, easy, and good. This fit the bill: a lemon pudding cake from Marion Cunningham's Lost Recipes. It is a lemon version of something my mother used to make fairly often, which we called "Devil's Float." In Devil's Float, a chocolate cake floats over a chocolate sauce. In this one, it's lemon. Tart, tasty, and goopy. Everyone loved it.


1 cup sugar, divided
1/4 cup flour
1/8 tsp. salt
1-1/2 cups milk
4 tbl. butter, melted
3 eggs, separated
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (this was 2-1/2 lemons, for me)
grated zest of one lemon

Preheat the oven to 350, and butter or spray an 8- or 9-inch square baking pan, or a 1-1/2 quart baking dish.

Mix together 3/4 cup sugar with the egg yolks in a good-sized bowl. Add the lemon juice and zest and the melted butter, then stir in the flour and salt. Finally, mix in the milk. (I used 1%, in case anyone cares.)

Whip the egg whites with the remaining sugar until they are stiff but still moist. (That's Cunningham's rendition; mine were probably still a bit soupy, as I did them by hand, but they were white and glossy.)

Fold the whites/sugar gently into the egg/milk mixture, then pour the whole thing into the prepared pan. Set the pan in a larger pan, and pour in hot water (I had room temperature water and it seemed to work ok) to about halfway up the side. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown on top.

Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold. You could certainly whip some cream and serve it with that as well, but we didn't and everyone was happy.

Serves 6-8 if they've had a reasonable meal beforehand. I think we have two servings left.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


I'm busy writing a book review (ok, not right this minute) this week, so I'm feeling even more scattered than usual. The thing is, it's a really really long book: two volumes, 100+ articles, that sort of thing. So it's going slowly.

In the meantime I did read two new(ish) books last week, the two by Curtis Sittenfeld. And I am of two (at least) minds about them. I read Prep first. It's good. She really captures the texture of boarding school life, for one thing, or at least certain aspects of it. While her novel is set in the late 80s or early 90s, I believe, it resonated with my mid-70s experience. Sittenfeld is an unobtrusively graceful writer, too. I didn't find myself noticing the writing so much as noticing that I wasn't noticing it, if that makes sense. And she captures that angsty self-absorption of a certain kind of teenage girl in a way that made me cringe, having been something of that sort of a teenage girl myself.

But then I kept wondering, so what? Why do I care? The retrospective quality of the narrative helped; periodically the narrator, Lee, reminds us that she did get through this experience and move on, growing up to be a much better person than she was in high school. But I still kept feeling as if something were missing, some edge of social satire--she seemed too passive, too accepting of the judgements of, let's face it, other teenagers.

And here's where I can't tell if my response is judging the character--who is, clearly, flawed, but in recognizable ways--or the novel, which depicts that character's struggles with, I'm afraid, too little distance or judgement. I want other people to read the novel and discuss it with me so I can better articulate my sense--she got something right, but is it the right kind of something?

The second novel, The Man of My Dreams, compounds the problem. The narrator is very like Lee, though older: insecure, anxious, bright but unself-confident, and, like Lee, overinvested in the eponymous character. A character who, of course, doesn't exist. In both novels, the young woman needs to discover that a man will not complete her. Well, duh. But of course, this is something that most young women need to learn, and the learning process is not at all pretty or flattering. I'm just...not sure I want to read about it any more.

The bottom line is, I found Laurie Halse Anderson's YA novel, Speak, to be a far more compelling depiction of the texture of high school life than I found Prep*, and if I want to read about the humbling of a misguided heroine, I think I'd rather reread Jane Austen than Sittenfeld.

*yes, I do know that these are very different books doing very different things. And that comparisons are odious.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Happy Birthday!

The Writer's Almanac from American Public Media: "It's the birthday of Margaret Wise Brown, born in Brooklyn, New York (1910). She wanted to become a writer as a young woman, and she once took a creative writing class from Gertrude Stein. But she had a hard time coming up with story ideas, so she went into education. She got a job researching the way that children learn to use language and found that children love language with patterns of sound and rhythm. She also found that young children have a special attachment to words for objects they can see and touch, like shoes and socks and bowls and bathtubs."

And thus, Goodnight, Moon. But also check out Wait Till the Moon is Full, a lovely book with illustrations by Garth Williams. I am less fond of The Runaway Bunny, though Clement Hurd's illustrations are, as always, appealing: I just don't much care for those omnipotent-mama stories. Still, childhood would be poorer all around without Margaret Wise Brown.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Riding my bike to work

Nothing makes me feel more like a kid than riding my bike in the early morning sunshine, breeze blowing through my hair, books in the front basket rattling as I go over bumps.

Nothing makes me feel less like a kid than climbing the stairs to the office, red-faced and winded, legs a little shakey from the ride.

It was a long, sedentary winter.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

new column

Here's my latest column at Literary Mama: Satan's Spawn: Or, Getting Along with Siblings in Books

Friday, May 19, 2006

It's a Girl!

The blog book tour for It's a Girl!, prolific mama-writer/editor Andi Buchanan's latest anthology, stops here today.

I've enjoyed all of Andi's books, and this one is no exception. Reading it I was reminded of my own pregnancies and the early years with both kids, the times before they're fully gendered (or so it always seemed to me), but when others seem the most invested, therefore, in gendering them. When I was pregnant with Nick I knew a woman who was in about the same stage of pregnancy as me. She had an older son, a little younger than Mariah. I remember she asked me what I wanted, and when I said I didn't really care, she confided, "I hope mine's a girl. If they tell me it isn't, I'm telling them to go in there and just cut it off!"

I knew she was kidding, but I think we were all relieved when her ultrasound revealed that she was, indeed, carrying a girl. She really really wanted the frilly socks and hats that her son hadn't worn. I hope, for all their sakes, that she got them.

The reason I didn't care, I must confess, is that I already had my girl. I knew, somehow, that Mariah was a girl (we had two girl names picked out for her but hadn't been able to agree on a boy name), and for my first child, I remember feeling that a girl would be easier, that somehow I "got" girls in a way I didn't "get" boys.

Yeah, right. As the contributors to the anthology all note, one way or another (and as the "Boy" contributors did as well), one thing your kids teach you is that you don't "get" them, anyway, no matter what you think. In this anthology, the issue for many of the writers is in protecting their girls from their own anxieties and fears--about beauty, about women's roles in society, about body image and politics and patriarchy. So we read about Jenny Block's experiences with plastic surgery, which she proudly owns and still doesn't want to impose on her daughter, and Joyce Maynard's ambivalent pleasure in her daughter's beauty, and even more ambivalent anxiety about her un-beautiful days. We read about failed relationships with fathers and mothers, efforts to put those right or at least avoid replicating them. But we read, above all, about learning that our daughters are not, no matter what we think, ourselves. I love, especially, Amy Bloom's "Me and My Girls" for its recognition of how our daughters help make us: "we all are seeing our same pieces refracted and placed differently on three women, all partially dressed in each other's clothes, all held in each other's eyes, and each one created, in part, by the other two."

As always with Andi's books, there's terrific writing in here. It's a pleasure, for example, to encounter Rebecca Steinitz's confident voice echoing through her tale of her daughters in "Tough Girls," to revel in Catherine Newman's wildly apt metaphors in "Baby Fat" (I love the image of the baby as "origami marshmallow"!). While I read it straight through, this is an anthology to come back to, to dip into again and again at different stages, for different moods.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Friday Food on Thursday: Spring and Summer Pasta

I'm a stop on the It's a Girl blog book tour tomorrow, but I wanted to make sure I got a recipe (of sorts) in here anyway. (Check out Andi's blog, by the way, for more on the blog book tour, and to wish her a happy birthday.)

So this is pasta sauce for when you don't feel like making pasta sauce. It makes enough for a pound of pasta, more or less, and you can use any chunky or curly pasta you like. I like to make it with celletani, but ziti or rigatoni or fusili would be fine.

Here's what you need:

1 pound pasta
1-1/2 to 2 pints grape or cherry tomatoes
1 tsp. chopped, minced, or pressed garlic
olive oil
8-10 large basil leaves
1 8 oz. ball of smoked or fresh mozarella
salt and pepper
grated parmesan

Boil water for the pasta. Add the pasta. While the pasta is boiling, slice the tomatoes in half. Or, don't. I think the sauce is juicier if you slice at least some of them, but it's certainly not necessary to do them all. Dump them into the bowl you'll serve from. Glug some olive oil over them--a couple tablespoonsful at first. Stir the garlic in with the tomatoes, and sprinkle in some salt (or maybe not, depending on what cheese you use) and pepper. In the height of summer you might want to use big, juicy, vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into bite-size chunks, but right now they have no taste, so I'm using grape tomatoes, which are quite delicious. If you wanted to get fancy and use some yellow ones in with the red, that would be lovely, but completely unnecessary.

Cut the mozarella into small chunks. Smaller than bite-size, but don't feel that you need to be terribly precise. We prefer to use smoked mozarella, but fresh is yummy too. Or you could probably use feta cheese, though I usually find it a little too salty. Toss it in with the tomatoes.

Chop or slice the basil leaves into little shreds. Add that to the tomatoes, too. Stir it all around so all the flavors meld.

When the pasta is cooked, drain it and add to the tomato mixture. Toss it all together so the cheese melts a bit and the pasta is lightly coated with olive oil and tomato juice. If it seems dry, add some more olive oil or, if you like, balsamic vinegar.

Serve hot or at room temperature, with grated parmesan. If you happened to have some toasted pine nuts around you could toss them on top as well, but again, it will be plenty tasty without. I've also been known to throw a handful of frozen petite green peas into the hot pasta, mostly because Nick will pick out the tomatoes and I want to kid myself that he's still eating some kind of vegetable. But that's just me.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


My dear godmother and occasional commenter, Tante Rose, has been gently nudging me to watch a movie. A particular movie, one not showing in our local multiplexes. (The news, by the way, that a 14-screen movie theatre is coming to town, to downtown rather than the exurbs, is thrilling me lately.) She mentioned it last about a month ago, after I got snarky about Walk the Line and Ray. I put it at the top of the netflix queue, and it turned up--and then sat on the top of the chest where our TV resides for, well, almost a month. Sigh.

Gearing up to see a two-and-a-half hour movie, in Czech, took a while. If I started after Nick went to bed, it would be midnight before I could turn in. If I started while he was still awake, and had to interrupt it--well, that didn't bear thinking of. And then, the captioning meant knitting would be hard, and I really do like to keep my hands occupied while watching TV if at all possible.

Excuses, excuses.

Last night Mariah had a babysitting gig and Nick and Mark were out at Y Guides and I watched Zelary. Finally. And it was indeed worth the wait. A lovely, poignant movie about making the best of the worst, and having it be, well, better than expected. Do see it, if you get the chance. Remember, I know all the reasons you'll have for skipping it.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Not complaining

When the semester ends I usually want to hole up and read trashy novels, eat junk food, and watch TV. And of course that's what folks assume I'm doing. "You're all done for the year? And you're not teaching this summer? Must be nice..." I know what they're thinking. Bon-bons on the couch.

Graduation was Sunday and yesterday was the last faculty meeting of the year. No bon-bons yet. I have a to-do list a mile long (very belated book review, conference prep, article, book orders and prep for fall, grant proposal...). So far I have done...nothing on the list. I have done a little conference prep, but not enough to cross it off. I've looked at the (very, very hefty) tome I have agreed to review, and been intimidated once again. I've checked out some not-too-trashy novels from the library. And a knitting book. And I have every hope of getting everything on the to-do list done, or at least reassigned, by the end of the summer.

But right now, all I want to do is nap.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Happy Mother's Day

Ellen Goodman has a great piece today in WorkingForChange. Click the link for the whole piece; this here is just my Mother's Day snippet for you.

WorkingForChange-The Mommy Wars: "This week, Salary.com announced that a stay- at-home mom's work is worth $134,121 a year. But the check is not in the mail. Consumers figure moms are collectively worth $14 billion a year in Mother's Day gifts. But motherhood still doesn't count in the GNP."

(Thanks to Becca for the link)

Saturday, May 13, 2006

oh, that rule!

We went to the big fundraiser at Nick's school today--it's a carnival, with rides, food for sale, an art market, a silent auction, all kinds of stuff. All four of us walked down together. Mariah saw several kids she knew from elementary school (this was, after all, her school, until five years ago) and middle and high school. They would talk for a while, then break apart again. This happened a few times. We walked around, looked at the art, stood in line (way too long, but that's how it always is), ate some chocolate-covered strawberries. As we left she said, "I broke the cardinal rule of being sixteen!"

"What's that?" I asked.

"You don't go to things like this with your parents!"

Funny, she seemed like she was having a fine time...

Friday, May 12, 2006

Friday Food #17: Muesli

Like Caroline, I love breakfast. And I need it. I know people--you may even be one of them--who wake up and drink a cup of coffee, shower, dress, take the kids to school, and then, maybe, think about some food. Not me. I'm headache-hungry within about half an hour of waking up, and I need more than just coffee.

So, also like Caroline (and Ben), I tend to fall into breakfast routines. I ate oatmeal almost every morning this past year. Now that the semester's over (and the grades are turned in, hurrah!), I may change things up a bit, but not too much. I may change my brownie recipe from week to week, but mornings are too hectic, too confusing, to waste any time actually thinking about food. I just want to eat it, and soon.

Last summer in England my breakfast of choice was muesli, that weird mix of raw oats and nuts, sometimes dried fruit, that seems to be on every breakfast buffet in the country. We bought it at the grocery store, but I remembered that Dad makes his own, and when we got back I got his recipe. So this is what he sent me, with a few edits of my own.

Put into large bowl:
1-2 cups raisins
1-1 1/2 cups soya granules (I have never found these and don't know what they are: TVP, maybe? Anyway, I leave them out with no ill effect)
2-3 cups wheat germ (or bran)

Blend in food processor:
1-1 1/2 cups nuts (walnuts, filberts, almonds - alone or mixed)
with up to 3 cups oatmeal
put in bowl with other ingredients

Blend in food processor:
1 cup sunflower seed
1 cup pumpkin seed
(or some combination)
with 2-3 cups oatmeal

If any item is omitted, substitute an equal measure of wheat germ and oats

So, to recap, you've got 4-6 cups of oatmeal, 2 cups of wheat germ, 2 cups of raisings [um, that would be raisins!], 1-1/2 (or so) cups of nuts, and 1 cup each of sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Last time I made it I used dried cranberries instead of raisins, and threw some sesame seeds in, since I had them. I also only used the food processor to break up the pumpkin seeds and the nuts (I used almonds). It's a very forgiving recipe.

Dad eats it moistened with water or fruit juice. I moisten it with water and then put it in the microwave for a minute and a half, so it comes out more like oatmeal with texture than like muesli. I then add brown sugar and soy milk. But you can do what you like: this is counter-cultural breakfast, after all, right?

[edited to add: best to refrigerate this because of the wheat germ]

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Blog Book Tour: Why Babies Do That

Jennifer Margulis, editor of Toddler: Real-Life Stories..., has a terrific new book out. (Full disclosure: Jennifer published an essay of mine in Toddler. It was my first anthology publication-- Thanks, Jennifer!)

The new book is terrific. A nice chunky little book, easy to hold, easy to browse, it delivers precisely what it promises: "baffling baby behavior explained." (More alliteration for you, Dad!)

The pictures are gorgeous. The text is terrific: if you've ever wanted to know why babies raise their eyebrows, lose their hair, cry, or play with poop, this is your book. (For the record, my kids did 1 and 3, but not 2 or 4. I know you're shocked to hear that they cried.) Although the book is mostly reassuring, it does also note a couple of behaviors that can, if they persist, be signs of problems. But really, even the head-bangers are probably fine. And the hair loss (for new moms, too) is completely normal. (The dads may be another story, but we won't go into that now.)

This is definitely going on the "great shower gift" list.

Go read this

Mrs Coulter, over at Republic of Heaven, has things to say about last Sunday's piece in the NYTimes about the war on contraception. She's got it right: women's control over their fertility equals women's advancement in society. I'd add that the Pill was developed by a believing Roman Catholic, and that those who believe in God might consider that there's a reason He/She/They gave us brains. Not to mention other organs.*

*yes, we've done a lot of harm with those brains, but we shouldn't give up on them. We are not, for good or ill, animals, and as such we alter our "nature" all the time. If we were to use "nature" as gold-standard for what God intended, we wouldn't be reading, either. Or for that matter blogging, but perhaps we shouldn't go there.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Movie Report

In a startling turn of events (or, in typical end-of-semester fashion) I have seen three movies in a theatre in less than three weeks. This is not unprecedented, but it's rare. So, a quick wrap-up.

Friends With Money was first, and it was--is--terrific. Great cast, great acting, great script. Oh, and the locations (especially the Santa Monica Farmer's Market) made me a little nostalgic. I think women's friendships are hard to depict, and this did a nice job of trying. That said, there's the underlying wonder--how did Jennifer Aniston get to be friends with these women, all older, all wealthier--in the first place? College doesn't seem right: she's more than four years younger. Same neighborhood growing up? It's just not clear. The others seem as if they might have met in art school or something, but her story is fuzzier. Still, once you get over that question, well worth seeing.

Or not. Later it occurred to me that it might work just as well a a novel or short story. There's little in the movie that strikes me as necessarily visual, for example. It's a very talky film (and I love talky films--John Sayles is one of my favorite directors) and that often means it might just as well be read as seen.

Still, I enjoyed seeing it.

Moving on, Hoot was next. I'd read the book a while ago, as had Mariah, and more recently Mark had read it to Nick. Mariah and a friend went to see American Dreamz (their verdict: not as good as Thank you for Smoking) while the three of us went to see Hoot. Which was, yes, a hoot. I enjoyed it thoroughly. The kids were terrific, for one thing, especially Mullet Fingers, who looks like a young Owen Wilson. Luke Wilson and Tim Blake Nelson were obviously having fun, as was Jimmy Buffet in a small role. It had been a while since I read the book, so I wasn't on the lookout for divergences: it seemed true to my recollection of the book, anyway, and did a nice job depicting what would be lost if the developers took over Florida. It's definitely a "message" movie, as it is a "message" novel, but since the message is save the environment I'm fine with it, and it was a fun way to spend a cold rainy afternoon.

Last night Mark and I went to see Don't Come Knocking. We would normally not go to movies two days in a row, but we were afraid it wouldn't hang around at our little art cinema and the rest of the week looked too busy. What you need to know about this is that we have fairly frequent ritual viewings of an old and now somewhat damaged tape of an American Playhouse production of True West, also by Sam Shepard (starring John Malkovich and Gary Sinise), in our house. Mark has known and loved this play for longer than I've known him. One of our first big dates was out to a production of Buried Child (or was it Curse of the Starving Class?) in LA. And the only other Wim Wenders/Sam Shepard collaboration I know of, Paris, Texas, is also one of our joint favorite films.

So, the short version is, Don't Come Knocking is great. Really terrific. The longer version is that there's some casting genius going on (I love Eva Marie Saint as Shepard's mother). But even more, this is a movie that needs to be a movie. It's about the movies, about the way movies shape our imaginations, for good and, especially, ill, and about the West and the Western as intertwined ideas. But it's also got the best roles for women I've seen in Shepard's work (admittedly, I don't know it all). It's really fun to watch Jessica Lange and Shepard act together, too. She looks like she's having fun with it. And Tim Roth has a scene in a diner that may almost rival Jack Nicholson's tuna sandwich in Five Easy Pieces. (It's different, but equally brilliant.)

We're on a roll here, obviously. What else is out there that we should see?

Monday, May 08, 2006

more on brownies

Mariah baked the brownies tonight and noted a few omissions in the directions, so I've edited below. Just in case.

Because I am never satisfied I tried another brownie recipe this weekend. They're fine, but I think in the end you're better off making the ones I posted here and drinking the Guinness.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

help end the mommy wars?

Becca has some great things to say about Caitlin Flanagan's latest (no link from me, she's got plenty of publicity). Yes, women, especially mothers, may find themselves shut out from politics as usual. And yes, Flanagan's complex but --as Becca astutely points out-- she's made her name mostly by hiding that complexity, especially the political complexity she now seems to want to have acknowledged. So, as always I want to go back to Miriam Peskowitz's work, because I really think she raised a lot of the same issues in her book. Frankly I don't think either the Republicans or the Democrats speak for me, as a mother or a worker or a thinking person, but so far the Dems have done marginally better on a few issues (environment, women's rights, etc.)

But I'm surprised not to be seeing more links to this new effort by MoveOn co-founder Joan Blades and others. There's a book, too, which looks good (no, I haven't read it, nor even explored the site as much as I should). Is this a movement that could bring Flanagan, Hirschman, Warner, Peskowitz, and the rest of us all into one room? And if so, would we all want to be there?

Friday, May 05, 2006

Friday Food--taking a break

Nick's home sick with strep today, and I'm in the throes of grading, so I don't have a recipe this week. But here's Mom's version of stir-fried spiced cabbage:

Stir fried spiced cabbage
To serve 4
1 lb. Chinese cabbage, bok choy or green or Savoy cabbage
[just to be contrary, and because it's what I had in the house, I used red cabbage]
5 teaspoons sugar
5 teaspoons white vinegar [I had some specialty yuzu vinegar, and used that, but generally I like to use Japanese or Chinese white wine vinegar]
2 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 scant teaspoon salt [I generally omit, but maybe using 1/2 teaspoon would work better than omitting it entirely]
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper [I used what it called for, and Dad and I agreed that probably 1/8 teaspoon would have been enough]
2 1/2 tablespoons peanut or flavorless vegetable oil [I usually use peanut oil, but didn't have any, so used canola this evening]
1) Cut cabbage into fine shreds, set aside.
2) In a small bowl, combine sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, salt and cayenne pepper and mix thoroughly. Have the oil in easy reach.
To cook: Place a 12" wok over a high heat for about 30 seconds. Pour in the oil, swirl it in the pan and heat for another 30 seconds, then turn heat down to moderate. Imeediately add the cabbage and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, making sure that all the cabbage is coated with oil. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the soy-vinegar mixture. Transfer the cabbage to a dish and let it cool to lukewarm before serving. Or chill and serve cold.
From the Time Life Foods of the World, The Cooking of China.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

competition, status, and job satisfaction

Laura at 11D pointed to a post about academic generations that got followed up here with a post about, among other things, status and competition in the academy. Then there's a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Ed about job satisfaction at midlife that seems to speak to these issues as well. The pseudonymous author of the Chronicle piece claims to have made career sacrifices to keep her family together, and I don't doubt her. She and her husband both have long commutes for the jobs they have, and she's not in a tenured or even tenure-track position (though she does seem to be attached to a prestigious institution nonetheless).

We made different choices. As a two-academic-career couple we used to say one of us (and it was usually me, as these discussions went) would have to go into administration in order to stay in one city. Instead, Mark simply gave up his career. He never did a national search, stopped doing research, took a series of one-year positions, and is now looking for something outside the academy. A large part of why he gave up--besides the overwhelming reason, which was so that I didn't have to--has to do with the structure of the academy itself. As the pseudonymous Paige puts it:

The system rewards unmarried, geographically unattached, childless women and married men with spouses who manage their lives. It favors the silently collegial or the brash productive types, depending on the environment. It undercuts the value of communal activity and, in some environments, punishes those who feel there is value in being actively engaged in students' lives. It adheres to notions of research productivity that encourage a great deal of career-based scholarship with little intrinsic scientific value or substantial public benefit.

We don't do science, but otherwise her analysis seems spot-on. Which is not to say that academe is a bad job, at all. As someone who has had modest success in a demanding career, and who has hardly been overtly punished in the ways the above paragraph suggests, it would be churlish of me not to point out that I have lifetime job security, flexible hours, and good pay. While my health care costs have sky-rocketed in recent years, I still have comprehensive and reliable coverage. I live in an affordable and pleasant city with good friends and real community. My children are succeeding in good public schools and they know where their parents are, and how to reach us, almost all the time. So is it whiny to want more, to point out the ways in which the system is still not really doing what it says it does?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

netflix or DVR

When we disconnected the cable a few years back, we subscribed to netflix. It was cheaper than cable and we figured we'd be able to control our and the kids' viewing better. It has worked, sort of, but not entirely. Mariah still tunes into mindless TV most evenings for a while, but she's limited to over-the-air shows, which means America's Next Top Model or The Biggest Loser rather than, say, The Daily Show or my new boyfriend, Stephen Colbert. Nick has become a Friends addict, which just seems a very strange attraction for an 8-year-old. And we can't watch basketball, or any sporting event, except when the networks decide it's a game worth watching.

This has saved us a lot of time and probably some money as well, true. But it's not ideal.

So now dish network wants us to sign on for $50 a month with a free DVR. Could we then cancel netflix and just record cool stuff to watch when we felt like it? I know we wouldn't get as many movies (getting the movie channels adds another $20 or so to the monthly fee), but we'd get sports and comedy instead. We could force the kids to watch specials on the History Channel instead of Friends. (Um, in my dreams.) We'd spend more on entertainment, but would it be worth it?

Inquiring minds want to know. Should we join the 21st century?

this is why I can't believe in astrology

Today is the birthday of both Pete Seeger and Niccolo Machiavelli.

(Thanks to the Writer's Almanac, as always, for keeping me informed.)

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

slacker mom, redux

Last night, for the eleventh year in a row, I purchased raffle tickets for our kids' elementary school. Mariah graduated from elementary school in June of 2001, and Nick started in the preK program there that fall. We're on our third principal, our eleventh teacher (that's right, no repeats!), and our eleventh spring fundraiser. I have never, once, won anything in the spring raffle.

In the early days we volunteered. We donated goods for the silent auction, staffed ticket or game booths, collected sodas to be sold. We bought lots of raffle tickets. Well, not lots compared to the parents who bought stacks of 100, but enough. The spring carnival was a fun affair, with a bouncy castle and a petting zoo, an obstacle course and a dunk tank. There were little games where the kids won cheap prizes by picking up the right duck from the tank. You could get your face painted or temporary dye sprayed into your hair. The teachers contributed, and kids begged their parents to bid on the outing with their favorite teacher, the opportunity to be principal for a day, the ice cream party with their four best friends.

I think it's still pretty much the same, though the items in the silent auction seem more professional lately and the organization far more streamlined. We are still asked to volunteer, but lately we don't. It's not just that we're busier. The festival has changed a bit: prices have gone up on the rides, the games, and the various food sales, and it raises far more money than it used to. The requests for donations have gotten bolder, too. Where once students were asked to sell a minimum of five raffle tickets, now it's ten. And those who won't or can't volunteer are asked to donate cash, for the right to see their name up on a wall of names.

This kind of fundraising works. People want to write checks and get recognized for doing so. As I've said, the carnival makes a lot of money (though it has in recent years been eclipsed by a winter art auction, whose prices make my head spin). But I've noticed that the less I participate, the more money the carnival seems to make. So it's really for the good of the school that I bow out again this year.

Except for the raffle tickets. Maybe this year I'll win something.

Monday, May 01, 2006

slacker mom

We had a quiet weekend. Mariah spent much of Saturday with a friend, and Nick did the same Sunday. Some chores got done, and Mariah had two driving lessons. I bought the groceries and did some knitting. I did make the brownies, and I cooked dinner every night. We went to church, and watched some basketball. I don't think my weekend looked anything like this, though, yet I still have only read the news section of the Sunday NY Times. Last week's Arts & Leisure is still on the coffee table waiting to be read.

I feel like an underachiever.