Saturday, December 30, 2006
I have now put up with about five years of entertainment aimed at kids, and I am ready to share my opinions.
Sesame Street. Worthwhile if only for the famous adult that invariably shows up (viz Margaret Cho, above). When REM performed Furry Happy Monsters, with a totally Kate-Peirson muppet, it was better than the original song.
Not that it can't be irritating until you get used to it. The gaping jaw that makes all the muppets look like mouth-breathers. Elmo and his weird scratchy voice. Zoe and her weird scratchy voice. Something of a funny-voice aficionado myself, I have noticed that ever since Jim Henson died, the muppeteers seem to prefer the elderly-sounding funny voices to the nasal (Bert), compressed (Kermit), gutteral (Cookie Monster) or simply kooky (Grover) voices.
The animations and counting shorts are still well-done, and there's a focus on kids doing things by themselves (as in, with no visible adult), which I think is more interesting for the kids who are watching.
Best of all, Sesame Street is not Barney. But now that our schedule has precluded it, I am not all that broken-up. That new muppet, Abby Cadabby, with her livid freckles and flat blue eyes, ick: that one I'm not sure I could get used to.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Fisher-Price Kid Tough cameras, which so far have lived up to their name. When Mr. Three has finished taking a picture, he simply drops the camera on the floor. Which is odd, because he doesn't really treat his other things like that.
Anyway, Big Man has really taken to it. He took a number of terrific portraits of family members on Christmas day, and then went around my aunt's house documenting her various decorative and functional objects.
It was really funny. I might have expected photos of the gingerbread house and the new toys, but he also shot the toaster oven and the fax machine.
You can see all of their photos on their Flickr account.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Ready to make vegetarian lasagna
Well if you feel like going all out on a big delicious vegetarian thing while you have a few days off, you could do a lot worse than this vegetarian lasagna that I made yesterday.
I combined a few different recipes, and "saved time" by using no-boil lasagna noodles from Barilla. It took me about 4 hours to prep all the layer ingredients (but that can be done a couple days ahead), then it was about a half hour to assemble, and it's in the oven for about an hour.
The major components are a mushroom bechamel sauce, marinara sauce, ricotta, sliced mushrooms, and asparagus, though next time I think I'll use spinach, chopped and wilted and maybe mixed with a little ricotta.
Went over really well, and even the kids tried it because it smelled good and came out nice and browned and bubbly. You'll have to take my word for it: although I took pictures of all the steps, when it was finished, I completely spaced.
It's kind of a big long recipe, so if you want it, go here.
Friday, December 22, 2006
(or, uh, actually more like 'with apologies to people who don't celebrate Christmas,' because what about the Jehovah's Witnesses who are and don't, or like me who isn't and does... oh well hey, it's Christmas, apologies all around!)
I had about a million errands yesterday.
I stopped at the coffee roaster in our neighborhood and bought 4 pounds of the best coffee I know - two to send to Bob's sisters and brothers in Boston, one to take to my aunt's house on Christmas day, and one for us. The coffee roaster's daughter is one of Big Man's best friends, so Mrs. Roaster and I critiqued the school's Winter Arts Festival the night before. The second graders did an interpretive dance - gotta love that.
I went to the local chocolate maker and bought almond bark to send to Boston and a pound of mixed to take to my aunt's, as well as a half pound of little chocolates wrapped in metallic foil to look like gifts, for the presents Big Man wants to make for his friends.
Next, I went to the Italian deli to buy olives and cheese - I'm making lasagna tonight for Joe & Jeannie and my parents. The place smelled so good and had all those Italian Christmas candies and stuff all around. As the guy was slicing the mortadella that I was buying for Bob as a special treat, a gear turned inside me. Before I knew what I was doing, I kissed Mr. Three and said, "Isn't Christmastime great?"
Then we stopped at the bookstore cafe and I talked a grandma into buying a really nice but kind of expensive board book for her baby grandson, and I bought a copy myself for my cousin's baby, and I chatted with two moms I know from Big Man's school who were sitting on the floor with their toddlers, knitting, along with the young woman who runs the fancy restaurant around the corner, and all of a sudden I just felt like saying, "Merry Christmas" to everyone I met.
This morning we delivered Aunt Janie's gift to the Big Man's school - a huge box of about 50 brand-new videos and DVDs, episodes of NOVA and Newton's Apple. Hurricanes! Tibet! Einstein! Archimedes! Bees! Easily $500 worth of science media for the school, which she got at a discount and simply handed over. Sometimes generosity just brings me to my knees.
Ok so today we have to fold 4 loads of laundry and vacuum the entire house in addition to making lasagna, getting all the xmas ornaments up from the basement, and delivering all the little gifties that Big Man made for his pals...
but it is happy work.
my best wishes for cheerful holidays and a happy New Year,
Your Neighborhood Librarian
The winner, after only 19 tries. (That's a success - one year it took 47.)
The Blind Boys of Alabama
The Roches singing the Hallelujah Chorus on Saturday Night Live in 1979.
That engineer in Ohio's house lights.
John Denver singing The Twelve Days of Christmas with the Muppets.
Bob and Doug McKenzie talking about beernog.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
The child was told to bring this to me and ask, "Can you tell which one is George?*" I thought that child or husband had lost mind, until I realized that my husband had recreated the Abbey Road album cover in Lego.
Child is covering his face because his dad is such a geek.
*Hint: George was out of step.
UPDATE: What's worse? Asking this question? Or being wrong? It was PAUL that was out of step.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
I bought this stuff when I was at the place I want to go after I die because I don't believe in Heaven because remember? atheist last week. I bought it because my husband likes eggnog and will buy that weird crap you get in the carton at the grocery store and which doesn't even have any alcohol in it, I mean huh? if I don't get in there first and supply him with a presumably superior cow's mucus product.
Let's have a look:
"Made with real dairy cream, rum, brandy, and blended whiskey."Mmmlph. My mouf is tuck togebber.
"Shake before pouring."
I'll say. "Consider your other options before pouring," that's what it oughta say.
And of course, it's Pennsylvania Dutch brand. Because when you want to get really really fucked up during the festive holiday season, you look to the Amish.
Resources: Anonymous Coworker drinks it for you.
Monday, December 18, 2006
Big Man woke up covered in Silly Putty the other day.
No, it wasn't aliens, I know that's what you were thinking.
It also wasn't retribution for (pick an offense) by his darling no-decent-sense-of-vengeance even-though-we've-been-trying-to-teach-him brother.
It was just - oh, he loves the Silly Putty, and he took it to bed with him because he loves it.
Anyway, overnight, in a little miracle of childhood, his sweaty little sleeping body melted the Silly Putty right into his sheet and jammies. Yes, that shit does melt, and it absolutely becomes part of the fabric.
Sheet? Tossed. Piece of crap jersey sheet from Target.
Jammies? Well, they would have to be the pricey Hanna Anderssons that he hasn't even fully grown into and which would have been part of our family for the next 5 years because Mr. Three will get em next.
So here goes me, making like a Family Circle mom, trolling the Internet for handy stain-removal tips. Man, I hate hanging out on those sites. You know? They're for like people who get their scissors sharpened instead of buying a new pair at Staples or just having dull scissors and swearing at the wrapping paper every birthday. Or people who make their own Play-Doh.
The results of my research:
- Freezing the fabric? Does not a damn thing.
- Salt? Weird but also useless.
- Blotting with rubbing alcohol? Sounded too stupid to even try.
Me, I found the strongest solvent in the house, a little orange can called Gook Begone or Avast Ye Crud or something, and soaked the Silly Putty with it. Then I scraped it off with a table knife.
Then I washed the pajamas about seven times to get the paint thinner smell out of them.
This all took a while, so you can imagine my reaction when I found both boys up on the top bunk this morning with the Slime that they made at a (very excellent) birthday party yesterday.
They were bouncing around up there, having a good time NOT getting dressed, and when I went in to remind them that the underpants go on first, a blob of green Slime bounced out and hit the carpet.
"Do you have the SLIME up there?"
"Are. You. KIDDING me?"
"Do you remember me spending an hour yesterday digging the Silly Putty out of your jammies?"
"Well what the heck?"
"How about: 'No goopy stuff in bed.' That's right, New Rule: No goopy stuff in bed. You people complain about there are too many rules, well you could think to yourself 'Huh, taking goopy stuff into the bed sounds like it will be a real mess, I think I will leave it in the kitchen,' OR: you could remember another rule."
"Does anyone remember the new rule?"
[mumble mumble goopy stuff mumble bed]
"Thank you. Get your clothes on."
Note: No swearing. Also, no screaming. Yelling somewhat, but not roaring and shaking. Almost amused.
Saturday, December 16, 2006
My friend Christina is going to her friend's "Drink Until You Love the Baby Jesus" party tonight.
In the category of holiday themed events, this may be the best I've ever heard of. If I hadn't gone to the "Drink Until You Don't Hate the Color of the Walls" party at Rocket to Venus Thursday night, I might be tempted to crash.
Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer had a very shiny nose.My kids don't quite get Christmas. People keep asking me if they are bouncing off the walls, and I have to say, they are totally non-cranked. It's nice. I don't want to jinx it so I have resisted the impulse to examine why I seem to have merited a pass on the xmas mania.
And every other weekend, he would wear his mother's clothes.*
Found out last night, though.
The neighbor kids brought over a singing Christmas card that they had received. This damn thing played Burl Ives (see above, and aren't you glad the fat bastard was apparently so filthy when he got in the bath that the water is now opaque) singing "It's a Holly Jolly Christmas" every time you opened it. Kids went apeshit. They played the card over and over, they sang the song at the top of their lungs. Seriously, it affected their behavior too, running and shrieking through the house.
I had thought it was the TV that makes kids so nuts at the holidays, all those commercials for Bionicles and Tickle Me things, but it's not - it appears to be the damn carols. Juliet reports that her kids, Big Friend and Big Friend's Little Sister, have INSISTED that Rudolph and Frosty and their ilk be on constant rotation for the last month. It's so bad for her that at our Monday night prayer group, she threatened the bar manager with bodily harm if he didn't turn off the Christmas music. (he's little and she works out, it wouldn't take much)
All of the other reindeer used to beat him up at school.Big Man was helping me wrap presents the other day, picking the ribbons and the bows and whatnot. I hate wrapping presents so it was nice to have the company. He asked if there were any kid presents in the towering stacks of boxes and I said sure there were.
Cuz in the 1940's, cross-dressing wasn't cool.
"Can I watch you wrap the kid presents?"
"Well not really, because most of them are for you and your brother."
"I beg your pardon???"
"I want those presents to be for my friends!"
So, ok, it looks like I may end up violating school protocol and making little prezzies for his friends. Ironic, right, the atheist getting in trouble for celebrating Christmas? But how can you not honor that kind of impulse?
Then one foggy christmas eve, Santa came to say,At the YMCA the other day, Mr. Three spotted the Christmas tree and all the presents beneath it. Whispered to his dad: "I tink all dose presents are... for Santa!"
"Rudolph with your dress so tight, won't you guide my sleigh tonight?"
It's amazing to me. We do Christmas, and I think they've heard the process described several times - Santa, sleigh, presents, etc. They even met a Santa last year. When Santa asked the Big Man what he wanted for Christmas, Big Man said, "Whatever you bring me, that's what I would want!"
And when he saw the Big Wheels under the tree Christmas morning and one of us said, "Look what Santa brought!" his eyes went wide and he said, "Santa DOES that?"
Then all the reindeer drank gin and some single malt whiskey.They still are putting things together in their own way.
Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, you'll go down in history.
*Lyrics to "Rudy" by Sick reproduced by permission of Big Friend's dad.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Welcome back, cameras!
Oh man. The "new" camera, my Konica Minolta Dimage, lost its ability to focus at Jules & Leslie's Halloween party. A common problem for attendees of that party, but in the case of the camera, it had to be mailed to the Sony service center to regain its composure.
"Dear Our Customers,
Konica Minolta Photo Imaging, Inc. ceased the camera business on March 31, 2006... Konica Minolta Photo Imaging, Inc. would like to express our heartfelt appreciation to fans of Konica Minolta around the world for their support for more than a century."
Great. That camera's only 2 years old. Then we left our beloved steel Canon digital Elph, vintage 2001, at my folks' house at Thanksgiving.
So I was left with the camera in my phone for a few weeks. You get some interesting effects with a camera so limited in its properties, but it's not really a camera per se.
Finally got the Konica back in the mail last Friday. Picked up the Canon this weekend at mom's. I feel better now.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
I have now put up with about five years of entertainment aimed at kids, and I am ready to share my opinions.
Dan Zanes. Not only kind of cute, with the hair and the beautiful little bright-colored suits (the one above is an exception - usually he's in emerald green or mustard yellow), but also the songs are terrific. My taste in music usually requires something hard, or fast, or seriously funky, but these are folkish songs that are funny and melodic and easy to sing along with. They play interesting selections from the old-time songbooks, like Washington at Valley Forge and The Sidewalks of New York, as well as their own compositions and cleaned-up versions of old roadhouse tunes.
Most importantly, the band is made up of musicians, people who know their instruments really well and aren't afraid of key changes and non- 4/4 time. You know how even the most pleasant children's music eventually makes your eyes roll back in your head? That's because they use the same 5 chords to play 25 2-minute songs. These guys don't do that.
Dan and his brother were in the Del Fuegos, whom I saw in Cleveland's Flats one unbelievably rainy night opening for Nick Lowe. I sort of stole a car to get to that show, come to think of it.
Um, anyway. Everybody with kids should have a copy of House Party. I've heard it hundreds of times and it always - always - makes me sing along. Does not hurt that people like Debbie Harry and Lou Reed and Angelique Kidjo chime in too. And it makes my kids jump on the bed and dance.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Christmas in Hades by Dan Goodsell. On sale in his Etsy store - get it while it's hot, heh heh oh nevermind.
Core77 has this terrific list of 77 Design Gifts Under $77. So many things on it are drooly, including the Richard Neutra house numbers from Design Within Reach (the most poorly named company I know of).
I have come across some good gift ideas myself this year. And since I don't have any money or time, and in fact precious few friends! I am offering my ideas to the public at large. All 23 of you.
1. The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death by Corinne May Botz. Photographs of the work of Frances Glessner Lee, who "built detailed doll houses that replicated unsolved crime scenes as training tools and visual aides for detectives". It's wild - meticulous dollhouse lady creates teeny tiny CSI scenes, complete with spatter patterns. It kind of fits, right? You can see photos from the book at the Bellwether Gallery.
2. The Clumsiest People in Europe: Or, Mrs. Mortimer's Bad-Tempered Guide to the Victorian World by Todd Pruzan. As heard on NPR, just as funny as can be.
3. PureDigital's Point & Shoot video camcorder. You can get it at Target for $100. It's tiny and it doesn't use tapes, that was all I needed to hear. We've had one since September and we really really like it.
4.12-foot strings of paper lantern lights for ten bucks.
5. The Week-End Book, ("N.B.—mice cooked in honey should be imported from China, not prepared at home") by Francis Meynell.
6. A chrome cuckoo clock by Kikkerland, the people who bring us the Moleskine notebooks in the U.S.
7. The Chang & Eng Shot Glass ("make mine a double" aww that's just bad) from the Mütter Museum.
7. Lokki bedding from Textile Arts, your source for everything Marimekko.
8. The Panorama of New York City, 48 pages on one of the coolest models ever built
9. For your pal who spends every day in the garden, a badass Japanese Farmer's knife. Good for dividing perennials and for feeling extremely tough about it.
10. An upside-down chair for kids from DWR.
11. Brilliantly colored rugs from Joe's friend and neighbor Sara Schneidman. Ok, a little expensive, but these are on sale! And the greeting cards are considerably less.
12. A decorative hand-painted cooking shovel. Well I guess if I'm going to be shoveling food, I would like to be using a tool that is pleasing to the eye.
13. Rock´em Sock´em Robots. The original and still the most disturbing.
14. There's gotta be a repro map at the Library of Congress shop that's just the thing for your mapgeek friend. Well except they don't sell a repro of the 1869 Sachse Bird's Eye View of Baltimore, which they do have online in a format that allows fine zooming, oh it is cool. You can pretty much only get that from KJA Posters, and I have no idea whether their printing is any good or not.
15. Every house that has kids and yard should have a copy of Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots by Sharon Lovejoy.
16. Edward Tufte's new book, Beautiful Evidence, $45 or so from Amazon.
17. Ian Fleming's James Bond: Annotations and Chronologies for Ian Fleming's Bond Stories by James Griswold. Just get it for your dorky cousin and for me, ok?
18. Meet Danielle Gori-Montanelli, the Leonardo of felt. You can see necklaces and scarves on her website, but she also makes smaller things, flower brooches and the like, out of her beautiful layered felt.
19. Buy your crazy-ass brother-in-law a crazy-ass little kiwi skull from Skulls Unlimited. They also carry a t-shirt with illustrations from Cuvier's 1836 Recherches sur les Ossemens Fossils. Beautiful and obscure.
20. "Curiously strong magnets" from ThinkGeek. Do you know anyone who couldn't use a pack of magnets strong enough to affix a hammer to the fridge? Or.. a monkey from a shelf? I ask you!
21. Marge Margulies' breathtaking pottery.
22. How about a DIY gilding kit from Talas? Hasn't your little sister always wanted to gild something? Like her stapler... or her tampon case?
23. You can't go wrong with a gift from Aedes de Venustas, a lavish little store in Greenwich Village. Especially the perfumes from L'Artisan Parfumeur. You want to get real fancy, buy mom the Terracotta Amber Ball (above) room fragrance thingy.
24. The Skull Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta and Ralph Masiello. Amazing, gorgeous illustrations and neat riddles, plus hidden pictures. My kids gnawed every scrap of flesh off the bones of this book.
25. Toys from metalsmith Kristin Lora, especially her little cars.
26. Locas by Jaime Hernandez. Breathlessly described as "the entirety of the original Locas saga from the first fifty issue run of Love and Rockets ... now available in one mega-massive (over 700 pages!) hardcover volume". Also, it's only fifty bucks from Atomic Books.
27. The Most Beautiful Periodic Table Poster in the World. Available in multiple sizes, at multiple price points. The laminated place mats may just be the best version - they have the story of each photo on the back.
28. A peg-legged, eyepatched, hook-handed pirate made of one long piece of string - the perfect stocking stuffer for the one you love. Zombie also available.
29. Pretty interchangeable glass pendants and earring bobs for your sister-in-law.
Mr Three, back when he was Senor 6 Weeks
30. Last but not least: for the babies, you just can't beat the striped zipper jammies from Hanna Andersson, as seen above on Mr. Three, who never has worn a stitch that's new but whose hand-me-down Hannas always look brand-spankin'. They're organic cotton and they last through at least four kids. Hand 'em down and pass 'em around.
PS: ALMOST FORGOT! Mr. Librarian's special surprise gift this Christmas - the SimpliciTree, a fully-decorated artificial Christmas tree that rises to its full height of 7 1/2' at the touch of a remote control button!!!
Scare the kids! Startle the cat! Get Grandma really really confused! "Is it the eggnog, or is your tree... moving?"
Available in Angel-y White, Glimmery Gold, and, uh, Satanic Scarlet (above).
A heartfelt thank you to Sandy for bringing this gem, the Entish Liberace, to our attention. Dayum.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
I'm fortunate, I know it, to work at a public library. I have access to a gamillion brand-new gorgeous books for kids and I bring home something like 40 of them a week. I don't have to spend a mint to keep my kids engaged and excited about books, and I don't have to go out of my way to get them.
Coming down the stairs this morning, this is what Bob saw. Both kids curled up in our shoe baskets (? surely there are more comfortable spots) "reading" the books that I brought home from work on Thursday.
Big Man got his first report card this week. He's got something of a temper, and arg we've been working on ways to deal with that, but on the plus side, he's proficient in almost all the developmental areas they measure, and his teacher tells stories about him initiating and following up on projects.
He also had his first dentist appointment this week, and was interested and talkative and not at all resistant or afraid.
He loves science and dinosaurs and New York City. Just in case the future is rocky between the two of us, I want to go on record to say how proud I am of my cool kid.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Like there should be a term for when you're rooting around in your pocketbook for your lighter and you keep coming up with your lip balm, and when you want to find your lip balm you always find your lighter. Which I have like 12 of, and tonight I still ended up trying to light my cigarette in a Force 5 gale with wooden matches. Took like 20 of them and I inhaled a ton of sulfur before I got any nicotine. Friggin pocketbook.
So, tonight Bob's out watching the Browns get annihilated by the
I used to have a lot of alone-time, it was a treasure and I appreciated it. Before I was married (the first time). I lived alone for many years, or actually I lived with a series of boyfriends, but they were all like med students and bartenders and musicians so due to scheduling conflicts I still had a lot of alone-time. In fact, even after I was married (the first time), I still had a lot of time to myself, as I worked at home and went to grad school and he worked full-time and spent his leisure hours, I dunno, buying ladies' underwear and drinking and screwing around. I do hope that idiot cleaned up his act.
But now, with this good life and great kids and wonderful husband - now, not so much on the time spent alone.
That is why, when I tucked myself into bed with the remote tonight - I love TV, have I mentioned that? I love it and I miss it, even though all the shows I used to watch are off the air now. Anyway I cried foul on the whatever-you-callit phenomenon which meant I had to watch the same episode of Sex In the City that I'd seen before. And I had no snacks, because I'm a good crunchy mom who doesn't buy cookies or Cheetos or any of that fabulous binge-eating good stuff.
Bah. I say bah.
I have now put up with about five years of entertainment aimed at kids, and I am ready to share my opinions.
Walking with Dinosaurs. Big Man got a 5-disc set of the BBC programs Walking with Dinosaurs and Walking with Prehistoric Beasts for his birthday this year, because he had expressed a sort of glancing interest in dinosaurs (and because I'm a big geek).
Gee, it would have been great if it had taken hold. If, for example, he were now in an early-early admission program at the University of Chicago instead of merely being able to identify every single creature in the National Geographic Encyclopedia of Prehistoric Mammals.
The series is so well-done as to be spooky; the effects rival and in some cases surpass the movies (except for the hominid episode - even the kids think that the little primates in that one move like something from a video game). It's also nice that as much time is spent on marine animals and weird little early mammals as on the big predators and woolly mammoths.
Kenneth Branagh narrates. His style is rather dramatic, and it totally captivates the kids. This has led to some amusing moments. This summer, walking through the salt marsh on St. Simon's Island, Mr. Three saw a couple guys crabbing off the causeway. He stopped and asked them what they were doing, then peered into the water, looking for crabs. He said, "I don't see any crabs, guys. I think this is a world... ruled... by crocodiles!"
At times you can hear them in the tub, playing with their model sharks and dinosaurs, and providing play-by-play commentary in an accent straight out of Oxford: "The carnivorous reptile struggles to keep up, but he will eventually lose the race, for this is a world... ruled... by bahds!"
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Monday, December 04, 2006
But guess what? Me, the no-willpower woman, the one who's ALWAYS last out of bed, the non-camper - I am still going to the gym 3 or 4 times a week. 15 minutes on the Elliptical, which truly truly kicks my ass and I'm still not sure I'm doing it right 'cause of the way my left knee buckles a little on the upswing; and 15 minutes on the bike.
I don't know if it's doing any good. I haven't weighed myself, I figure any loss would be microscopic at this point. I pretty much look the same to myself, but then again I was 5 months gone with Big Man before I observed to Bob, "You know, I think you can actually see that I'm pregnant and not just fat," so I'm apparently not that observant. I haven't tried my regular pants yet. I've been getting by with some hand-me-downs, some old pants, and my Luckys, which are low enough in the front that I can pull my t-shirt down over the fat part and hope for the best.
Loren helped me pick out 6 new t-shirts at Old Navy just for this reason. I don't enjoy clothes shopping, so I treat it like a trip to Sam's Club. I buy in bulk. It isn't always easy for me to find long-sleeved shirts that reach my wrists and go down past my gut and yet aren't just huge and tenty, but these totally do the job. Plus, when you put 'em together with the bras that Juliet helped me find, well. Let's just say I'm inspired to stand up a little straighter.
There is nothing like having a bra that fits. Holy smoke. I was 30 and needed a strapless bra for my first wedding dress before I first got fitted by a pro. I went to Bloomingdales on 60th St and got shoved around by this teeny fairy-tale lady with a tape measure and a thick accent. Naturally, I found out the bras I'd been wearing were WAY off. She set me up with a couple 34D's and I have never looked back.
When I was pregnant, and baffled by my body, I went down to the Lower East Side. I searched for and found the oldest "foundation" store in the city, Orchard Corset. Just a hole in the wall on grimy Orchard Street, this place looked just like Ollivander's Wand Shop. The walls were lined with little cubbies holding flat rectangular bra boxes, and a gruff Hasidic guy was behind the splintered wooden counter. He did not snarl, "Whaddaya want, girlie?" but he may as well - I felt like a debutante on a construction site. I told him that I no longer could fit in any of my bras and I needed help, and he bellowed, "Mother?!"
Another one of those wee, ancient fairy-tale crones beckoned me behind a curtain, where I stripped to the waist. She measured, then brought me a few intensely plain but totally serviceable bras. I do not care to remember the size.
Since then, I have had two kids, nursed for like 5 years, gone down to my high-school weight and then way back up. It was ugly. I was buying bras at Target. I was wearing nursing bras and sports bras. Meanwhile, my friend Juliet was setting everyone and her mother up with her favorite lingerie store, Lingerie Lingerie, and they were all raving about their tits.
Best yet. Barbara at Lingerie Lingerie is neither tiny nor ancient. She measured me and brought me about 20 bras to try on. Pretty ones. She surveyed me in them and came back with more. I bought 5 bras that are flattering, supportive and comfortable, and which I don't fall out of when I lean over.
I know of very few grails in this life. The job that you enjoy and which pays a living wage. Music that calms children and doesn't make you want to stab your ears with a chopstick. A reliable ISP. Warm comfortable boots that look cool. The school that encourages your child's development and doesn't bankrupt you.
Ok I guess I know kind of a lot of grails. But bras that fit make the list.
And that other resolution? Not yelling? I am not doing too badly. Laying off the caffeine has made a big difference. Luckily, Thomas at Zeke's Coffee makes a half-decaf blend that is almost indistinguishable from regular.
Bonus section: Things to Watch Out For When Buying a Bra
Uni-boob with dagger and flames
Saturday, December 02, 2006
I have now put up with about five years of entertainment aimed at kids, and I have a few things to say.
Thomas the Tank Engine. Thomas and his dozens of friends were a HUGE part of our life for years. We were very familiar with the self-esteem issues, petty jealousies, and passive-aggressive behavior of Percy, James, Toby, Bertie, Henry, Stepney, Rusty, Salty, Cranky, Emily, Oliver, Toad, Duncan, Douglas, Bill, Ben, Rheneas, Skarloey, Oliver, Gordon, Edward, George, Trevor, Harold, Elizabeth, Boco, Mavis, Daisy, Diesel, Diesel 10, and Sir Topham Hatt. Do you think I had to look those names up? I did not.
Oh, god. I mean, how many stories do you think you can wring out of the by-definition linear world of a railway? (Turns out it's 275) Especially if the action doesn't center on the human characters? So everyone is always falling off the rails, crashing through buildings, and sniping at each other.
The videos have pretty high production values though I must say. Model trains puff busily on the tracks through a pretty model countryside. But the humans are wooden figurines with painted faces and mitten hands, and I have always thought it is just plain weird when inanimate objects with no limbs are made to be characters. Especially vehicles. With no arms, there's not a lot they can, y'know, do. And with no body articulation, it's hard to convey expression. They can't turn their heads to converse, because, uh, they don't have heads. Consequently, the trains on the Island of Sodor roll their eyes A. Lot. At least they don't crane their faces sideways like the planes do on Jay-Jay the Jet Plane. Oh wow, how I hated that one!
In addition, the damn thing is British, and there's all this class-based subtext. ("You are a freight engine - don't try to pull passenger cars!") We once asked a friend from Yorkshire his opinion of Thomas. He confessed an abiding affection for the show and said that he had always identified with Percy the Saddle Engine. Working-class, provincial Percy is obsequious to a fault. He often grumbles about the dirty work he has to do and then feels guilty and fearful because of his disloyalty. Gives you a chill when you think of the writers setting up this character as a conduit for that message to those types of kids.
And the whole useful, cheerful, respectful thing. Extremely minor deviations from these standards of behavior function as major plot mechanisms - there's nothing else to break up the monotony! The relentlessly chin-up songs, too, with their sprightly but oppressive melodies, sung by the typical British choir of orphans and accompanied by a rinky-dink piano - ugh, I totally get what made the Who smash their guitars.
On the other hand, my boys have been done with Thomas for a while, and just yesterday Mr. Three decided he'd like to watch one. As it started up, I had to kind of admire the detailed miniature train sets and the real trails of steam puffing rhythmically out of the stacks. Plus there's the Carlin thing. A little cognitive dissonance goes a long way for me.
Extra bonus: There is a story during which Percy is all upset because he can't get a hose-down and he doesn't like being dirty. They actually came out with a special-edition Percy toy, called Dirty Percy. Ok. But it is quite common for two- and three-year-olds to be unable to pronounce a mid-word "r," which means that when this train becomes their favorite, you can hear them clamoring for "Dutty Pussy".
And here's a video that you probably have to be me to enjoy.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
stunt kite, St Simon's Island
Juliet got wheedled into putting up her Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving by her nieces. Yikes, says I. I just got the Halloween decorations back down the basement, I'm not ready to bring up xmas.
Gad, is anyone ever ready for Christmas? Oh now that's not right. I can clearly remember being very into it. When I was single and lived alone, actually.
Now, though, the thought of putting up lights in the cold, clearing out a corner for the damn tree, ornaments on and ornaments off, jeez I just don't need the extra hassle. In fact, I have for years been whining to Mr. Librarian about an artificial tree. Oooh, no mess! Oooh, just snap it together! Oooh!
To me, someone growing a tree so that they can cut it down and sell it to me so that I can put it in my living room and watch it slowly die seems absolutely absurd. Cut flowers, ok, they're pretty and don't take up much room in the garbage when they're done, but, like, a whole tree?
It's got to be bad for the environment too, all the resources in growing, shipping, and disposing - vs. the one-time cost of manufacturing an artificial tree. I made all these arguments to my husband. To further arm myself in case he proved intractable, I looked up the overall energy cost of real vs. artificial.
So guess what. Manufacturing an artificial tree out of PVC vinyl is like so environmentally heinous that you could deforest most of Montana, and, as long as you mulch your tree instead of putting it in the landfill, you'd be doing Mother Nature a favor.
Good thing I checked, huh? Good thing I had the skills, resources, and most of all inclination to look into something that seemed like a reasonable assertion before turning around and beating someone else over the head with it.
This is all I'm saying about the religion thing. I have had several penetrating conversations over the last few days about my atheism blog entry. I especially want to thank A the Niece and Friend Mary for being skeptical and tolerant and willing to civilly discuss what sounded like a big fat diatribe on my part.
In some ways, I am unmoved.
- I know that there are religious communities that actively discourage examination of received information, and I am against that.
- I know that there are religious communities that preach doctrine that is in direct opposition to fact. That makes me very uncomfortable, and sometimes hopping mad.
- I know that there are religious communities that condemn people who do not believe as they do, or who do things that they think is wrong, and god damn it, that condemnation is the exact opposite of what I know to be a major tenet of almost all world religions - tolerance.
Tolerance, to me, is the ultimate grace. It is the one word that summarizes the lessons one can draw from the stories of Jesus, Mohammed, Rama, Buddha - and you know, I call myself a religion retard but in fact I've read them all.
Intolerance is what kills people. I don't think I need to back that statement up.
On the other hand, I failed to state in my previous entry what has always kept me from decrying religion, and that is the (good) moral and spiritual guidance it can provide. Mary said it best when she pointed out, "My parents didn't send me to Catholic school so that I wouldn't be corrupted by people like you (paraphrase), they sent me to Catholic school to learn right from wrong."
Yeah, I still believe you get that from your parents more than from anyone else, but her Catholic education probably contextualized the specifics that she had absorbed at home, made it obvious that "Don't lie" wasn't just some preference of her mom's - "Don't lie" is a universal value.
Further, there is a lot to be said for the solace and comfort of ritual. And there are intrinsic goods: I know Buddhists who swear that the meditation involved has solved their anger issues.
And take it from me, you cannot study the history of the Western world without learning the history of the Catholic church and of Judaism.
In fact, I largely give the mainstream established faiths a pass. In the United States at least, Catholicism, Judaism, and the older Protestant sects have reached an equilibrium with the surrounding culture. They can accommodate dissenting views without feeling threatened, and, I would say, seem to place more of a priority on maintaining the well-being of their congregants (uh, with certain egregious exceptions) than on micromanaging their lives.
Those kids can grow up and go through a process of doubt and investigation and not feel like they're the first ones to ever wonder about such things.
It is, in the end, the ability of religion to subvert or suppress critical thinking that I take up arms against. It's not just religion that can do this - bad teachers and Dr. Laura play their part - but it kind of is just religion and parents that can start the process so damn early. A friend of Joe's is a middle school science teacher in rural Virginia, and has been told by his students that "our parents warned us about you" because he was known to teach evolutionary theory.
It seems like "good" religious education, promulgated by people who respect the child, allows for curiosity and exploration. But you take an incurious child, or a dogmatic or overzealous educator, and you end up with an adult who forwards email about underarm deodorant causing cancer or Jews planning the September 11th attacks.
Well, hell, Mary's right. You take the word "religious" out of the previous paragraph and it still reads true.
So why am I unable to leave this alone? Because a child's mind is the epitome of potential. Just as we model good behaviors, we should model good habits of thought. We do that mind a disservice when we present statements of faith or dogma as irrefutable fact, without acknowledging alternative points of view or encouraging the child to evaluate those statements on her own.
I would propose two reasonable tests for statements that we make to children:
1. "Is it a (more or less) universally-held belief or value?"
2. "Is it provable?"
(A third test might be, "Is it useful to me at this moment?" which would allow such statements as "I'm sorry honey, the ice cream store is closed for the summer.")
Given these tests,
- Stealing is bad = universally held to be true
- Homosexuality is bad = not universally considered to be true
- The Earth orbits the sun = provable
- The Big Bang = not completely provable
- God created the world in 7 days = also not provable
Big Man is losing a tooth, and he's a bit squeamish about it. This is where the Tooth Fairy comes in, right? Promise a reward and the process of losing a tooth becomes less scary. I told the story. I said that when I was a little kid, my parents told me that if I put the tooth under my pillow yada yada fairy quarter etc.
Then I said, "What do you think about that?" He got this kind of incredulous smile and asked, "Is that true?" I told him I personally have never seen a fairy, but I was sure that there would be a present under his pillow in place of his tooth. "How do you think I know that?" I asked, and with another smile he answered, "Because you'll put it there!"
I find it very odd that in our civilization we're quite happy to speak of a Catholic child that is 4 years old or a Muslim child that is 4, when these children are much too young to know what they think about the cosmos, life and morality. We wouldn't dream of speaking of a Keynesian child or a Marxist child. And yet, for some reason we make a privileged exception of religion. And, by the way, I think it would also be [wrong] to talk about an atheist child. - Richard Dawkins
The time has come. I have now put up with about five years of entertainment aimed at kids, and I am ready to share my opinions. You may not care. In fact, I don't care. But I have formed these opinions and am compelled to broadcast them, at least once.
The Wiggles: They daze me. Four Australian guys in color-coded mock turtlenecks who play music and don't seem to make a big effort to look, like, good-looking. There's this disconnect between their Captain-Kirk uniforms and their jug-eared, cartoony human faces. One guy always looks unshaven, and at least two are decidedly bug-eyed.
The Wiggles have a pal named Captain Feathersword. He tickles people with his (feather) sword and likes to do silly dances. In one adventure, the Wiggles and the Captain impetuously commandeer a spaceship and bing around the galaxy like a pinball (a common trope). The Captain has impulse control issues - when he sees a big red button he sings a song called "What's This Button For?" (which I kind of like and which adapts itself to many circumstances and nouns. "What's this bottle for?" etc.) and then presses said button before discovering what, in fact, it is for. Later, when the group is in peril, one of the Wiggles suggests to the Captain that he do a funny dance. "Awww," protests the Captain shamefacedly, "It were one a' me funny dances that got us into this in the first place!"
After I don't know how many viewings (really listenings, I don't have to be in the same room as the videos, that's kind of the point), I developed a theory about the Wiggles and Captain Feathersword. They kind of aligned in my head with the Beatles and Doctor Robert. Wiggle world is pretty psychedelic, that's for sure, and you can totally read their lines as drug code.
"Captain Feathersword, we're crashing! Maybe one of your funny dances would help!"
("Captain Feathersword, we're crashing! Dose me!")
"Awww, it were one a' me funny dances that got us into this in the first place!"
("I don't know fellas, it were me unorthodox combination of OxyContin and crank that sent us all into shock in the first place!")
These guys are kid superstars though. I hear the live shows totally rock, despite the green-and-yellow dinosaur character and the octopus with the hat, god those things look so random, like they were the costumes that the Wiggly guys got for cheap when a costume shop went out of business back in Brisbane or wherever.
Their beginnings certainly were humble. You should see the early Wiggle TV shows - they look like they were filmed in a doctor's office waiting room. Even the kid guests look desperate and gaunt. How ever did they get so big? Ask a kid his criteria for liking anything, see if you get a comprehensible answer.
PS: Oddly, I think they moonlighted as crowd filler on the USS Abraham Lincoln one day a few years back:
Mr. 3 and daddy. photo by Peter Siegel.
Our old friend Pete stopped by last night for dinner and a bed. It was great to see him, he's one of those people that once you meet him you feel like you've known him your whole life. He and his family live in Maine now, which is too far away.
Luckily for us, Peter's job brings him to the MidAtlantic region every now and then. Right now, he's on a trip down and up the East Coast demonstrating high-end imaging technology to museums, universities, and libraries.
How high-end? Click on this picture and then click on "All sizes". The camera he was demonstrating is something like 13 megapixels, a PhaseOne image capture module attached to a Hasselblad body. The originals of these images, which Flickr will not accept, are 115 megs and 7228 pixels on the long side. I could print them billboard sized with no discernable degradation of resolution.
He handed the thing to me, and even though it was beautifully balanced, I suddenly felt all butterfingery when he said, "That's about $40,000 worth of camera there."
"Are they heavy?" asks the lawyer. "Yeah," the kid replies. "Then they're expensive, put 'em back."
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Big Man had a project for school this year - a big piece of foamcore that we as a family were to fill with some sort of statement about our family.
I was at a loss, until we hit on the concept of a jigsaw puzzle. Big Man and Mr Three are maniacs for jigsaw puzzles. I printed a lot of pictures, old and new, of Bob's family and mine, and we cut them into jigsaw pieces and glued them onto the foamcore.
The pieces didn't all fit together perfectly. They overlapped and left gaps, and as we were gluing, Big Man explained to me that families are the same way - not all the pieces fit together perfectly, and sometimes you lose a piece, but when you find the piece again it'll fit into the puzzle ok.
A pretty simplistic observation, but looking at this family picture, I feel it. My brother didn't come home for Thanksgiving - he has a de facto family in Seattle. My cousin Andrew is in Tucson in grad school, and three other cousins were with their father for the holiday. Their mom, my dad's sister, came to be with us. My mother's sister died some years ago, but her husband and son are here. Cousin Jonathan had the heaves and stayed at the hotel with his mom/grandmother, but his dad/grandfather, my mom's cousin Bill, is here, smiling, with three of his kids. Jonathan's mom is in Atlanta. My cousin Nash's wife is from Tokyo. My husband is from Cleveland. Rachel's husband is from Minneapolis. God knows where the dog's from.
In this picture, Mr. Librarian and I are holding our children down with great effort. They didn't want to be in the picture. I can only imagine the effort it will take in the future to even get them in the same room with us.
It's not a complete puzzle - the complete puzzle would fill the whole world. But these pieces - 17 people and a dog - fit together tonight to make a picture of love, and birth, and intention.
I try not to get overwhelmed by sentiment. But Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. (thanks Rae for the picture)
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
For Aimee's cousin John
I have been reading some things about atheism lately.
And I'm convinced.
No, just kidding, I've been an atheist all my life. I'm real comfortable with, as they say, witnessing to it. But there's this recent discussion about evangelizing for atheism.
I'm reflexively against that. Independent thinking is what got me here - why would I try to influence someone else's train of thought? However. The articles that I have been reading, by Richard Dawkins and others, make some interesting points:
- Religion is bad. It can lead people to murder. The worst a lack of belief can do is get you murdered for your impertinence.
- God is not true.
- A population that believes something that is not true - in the face of contradictory evidence - is a psychotic one.
And most persuasively: teaching little children "that there is a higher kind of knowledge which comes from faith, which comes from revelation, which comes from tradition, and that it is the equal if not the superior of knowledge that comes from real experience" (Dr. Dawkins, at a recent conference called "Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival") seems, when you put it that way, to undermine our other attempts at educating them. To subvert any potential for a rational society. Certainly it serves to establish precedent for the kind of mulish credulity that has allowed great swathes of our nation to put their trust in people who have demonstrably lied to them about matters in the public interest.
I've seen this with Big Man's friends. At the risk of alienating some of the other moms, I will say that it is tremendously disturbing when a five-year-old contradicts a factual statement by an adult with some Christian claptrap.
Furthermore, it's not like the claptrap is limited to moral or peripheral issues. I might roll my eyes but I would have no essential objection to a kindergartner telling me that if she punches her brother Jesus will be disappointed. We'll all be disappointed. We allow little children to be incentivized by mythical figures - if it'll just keep her from punching her brother between now and Christmas, say.
No, we're talking death, babies, and the creation of the world - big stuff.
I have held off talking about god to my kids. Death, babies, the creation of the world - and god - when they're ready to know, they'll ask. And I fully intended, when I had to address the question of faith, to speak of diversity of belief, and appreciation of the world's mysteries, and different approaches to explaining things that seem hard to understand.
The religious of the world, however, take the opposite approach. I've had a 4 year old sing out, "I know why Jesus died!" Big Man greets this revelation with concern: "Somebody died? Was he sick?" Not only that, but these kids are learning that I - along with my unbaptized children - am going to Hell.
So fuck it, maybe I will throw in my lot with the more radical atheists here. Why shouldn't I tell my kids that god is a myth? That their peers who speak of god are being taught things that aren't true? And why shouldn't I start now?
2. Ann Coulter
3. A song I heard out of a preschooler:
A, B, C, D, E, F, G,
Jesus died for you and me
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
big man (with Buncos)
Earlier today I volunteered to host the extensive extended family for dinner etc one day this weekend, to take some pressure offa Ma.
Not an hour later I dropped a large pickle jar fulla preserved lemons on the tip of my third finger.
I'm glad I prevented the jar from falling, if it had broken we woulda had to move. Strong smellin stuff.
The pain, however, was the worst pain I can recall in my life. Worse than when I broke my arm. Worse than the time I sliced the tip of my pinkie off with the mandoline. I saw stars. I could not speak. As I cringed on the floor cradling my hand with my eyes squeezed shut mouthing syllables of pain, I became aware that both boys, who react to each others' moments of woe with 100% opaque indifference, were standing by me patting me on the head and face.
Big Man, peering into my eyes, asked, "Are you saying 'ow'?"
I nodded, still unable to speak. He said, "Are you saying 'yes'?"
I don't know why but that cracks me up.
Most of my left hand is out for the count, with days of cooking & cleaning ahead of me. Plus it is hours later and still hurting like a bastard. A purple, swollen bastard.