Archive for February, 2010


Curling? Who knew?

I’ve become a fan of this sport, and not just because Canada won the gold and I’m married to a Canadian. I love the combination of grace, finesse, and strategy. And I’m all for a sport where a working knowledge of geometry and a middle-aged bald man can lead a team to victory.

I do think the Norwegians should have been disqualified for the pants. They looked like jester pants, or pajamas, or the backs of a deck of cards.

And what was up with the bouquets? Kale? Leaf lettuce? I mean, I know the Olympics are being held in Canada, in February, but couldn’t they have at least trucked in some carnations or something?

In a not-wholly-unrelated story; when did arm-flailing supplant artistic expression in (men’s) figure skating?



The traditional form of sushi is fermented fish and rice, preserved with salt in a process that has been traced to Southeast Asia. The term sushi comes from an archaic grammatical form no longer used in other contexts, and means, literally, “it’s sour.” Beginning in the Muromachi Period (AD 1336–1573) of Japan, vinegar was added to the mixture for better taste and preservation. The vinegar accentuated the rice’s sourness, and was known to increase its life span, allowing the fermentation process to be shortened and eventually abandoned. By the mid 18th century, the seafood-and-rice form of sushi had reached what is now known as Tokyo. The contemporary version, internationally known as “sushi,” was invented by Hanaya Yohei (1799–1858) at the end of Edo period. The sushi invented by Hanaya was an early form of fast food that was not fermented (therefore prepared quickly) and could be eaten with one’s hands roadside or in a theatre. Originally, this sushi was known as Edomae zushi, because it used freshly caught fish in the Edo-mae (Edo Bay, or Tokyo Bay). Though the fish used in modern sushi no longer usually comes from Tokyo Bay, it is still formally known as Edomae nigirizushi.

Sushi has to be one of those foods that causes one to contemplate who decided, all those years ago, that it was food.

You know, like artichokes. Here we have fibrous, thorny cacti, but hey they’re green and we’re really hungry, OUCH. But hey, maybe if we clip off the thorns, steam the daylights out of them, peel away 35% of their mass, and then scrape the pulp off with our teeth. . .what’s that? lemon butter? Sure, can’t see a reason why not. . .

So, some Japanese people are sitting around noonish ca. 1335, hungry, but nobody really feels like cooking . . . but hey, there’s some rice leftover in that urn over there (phew! Did you smell that? Quick! Put the lid back on!) and [insert Japanese-sounding name here] caught some tuna this morning, and there’s that lump of seaweed that washed up on the beach that no-one’s raked up yet — why don’t we roll it all together using this bamboo mat we’re sitting on? And just in case that rice has REALLY crossed over to the dark side, we can pair it with some of that radish [other Japanese name] found in the woods last week that’s so hot nobody knows what to do with it, to take care of any lurking microorganisms.

He likes it! Hey Mikey!


Do you want fries with that?

These beautiful, destructive creatures have been on my deck almost every afternoon for a week. They barely flinch when I try to shoo them away. It’s like they’re looking at me, standing in the doorway waving my arms, thinking: “Look, she doesn’t have boots on. There’s no way she’s coming out here. Maybe if we just stand here and stare at her she’ll go away.” Meanwhile they keep digging around in the snow looking for tulip and hostas sprouts to devour.

I keep waiting for one of them to poke its head in the window and order a cheeseburger.


As if!

My son (16) actually told me yesterday that he thought I should “pay him for his time” spent transporting his sister 2.5 miles to gymnastics one day a week, in the car I own, pay insurance on, and subsidize the gas for through a very generous allowance system.

It might have actually been funny if he had been joking.

And then there’s the whole issue of the value of his time — here I am making these unreasonable demands which directly interfere with an underqualified, unemployed teenager’s earning capacity.

Maybe I should start charging him for the 27 lbs of simple carbohydrates he eats every week.


The End of the World as we Know it

Let’s all try to make it a better one.

Op-Ed Columnist
The Fat Lady Has Sung

Published: February 20, 2010

A small news item from Tracy, Calif., caught my eye last week. Local station CBS 13 reported: “Tracy residents will now have to pay every time they call 911 for a medical emergency. But there are a couple of options. Residents can pay a $48 voluntary fee for the year, which allows them to call 911 as many times as necessary. Or there’s the option of not signing up for the annual fee. Instead they will be charged $300 if they make a call for help.”

Welcome to the lean years.

Yes, sir, we’ve just had our 70 fat years in America, thanks to the Greatest Generation and the bounty of freedom and prosperity they built for us. And in these past 70 years, leadership — whether of the country, a university, a company, a state, a charity, or a township — has largely been about giving things away, building things from scratch, lowering taxes or making grants.

But now it feels as if we are entering a new era, “where the great task of government and of leadership is going to be about taking things away from people,” said the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum.

Indeed, to lead now is to trim, to fire or to downsize services, programs or personnel. We’ve gone from the age of government handouts to the age of citizen givebacks, from the age of companions fly free to the age of paying for each bag.

Let’s just hope our lean years will only number seven. That will depend a lot on us and whether we rise to the economic challenges of this moment. Our parents truly were the Greatest Generation. We, alas, in too many ways, have been what the writer Kurt Andersen called “The Grasshopper Generation,” eating through the prosperity that was bequeathed us like hungry locusts. Now we and our kids together need to be “The Regeneration” — the generation that renews, refreshes, re-energizes and rebuilds America for the 21st century.

President Obama’s bad luck was that he showed up just as we moved from the fat years to the lean years. His calling is to lead The Regeneration. He clearly understands that in his head, but he has yet to give full voice to it. Actually, the thing that most baffles me about Mr. Obama is how a politician who speaks so well, and is trying to do so many worthy things, can’t come up with a clear, simple, repeatable narrative to explain his politics — when it is so obvious.

Mr. Obama won the election because he was able to “rent” a significant number of independent voters — including Republican business types who had never voted for a Democrat in their lives — because they knew in their guts that the country was on the wrong track and was desperately in need of nation-building at home and that John McCain was not the man to do it.

They thought that Mr. Obama, despite his liberal credentials, had the unique skills, temperament, voice and values to pull the country together for this new Apollo program — not to take us to the moon, but into the 21st century.

Alas, though, instead of making nation-building in America his overarching narrative and then fitting health care, energy, educational reform, infrastructure, competitiveness and deficit reduction under that rubric, the president has pursued each separately. This made each initiative appear to be just some stand-alone liberal obsession to pay off a Democratic constituency — not an essential ingredient of a nation-building strategy — and, therefore, they have proved to be easily obstructed, picked off or delegitimized by opponents and lobbyists.

So “Obamism” feels at worst like a hodgepodge, at best like a to-do list — one that got way too dominated by health care instead of innovation and jobs — and not the least like a big, aspirational project that can bring out America’s still vast potential for greatness.

To be sure, taking over the presidency at the dawn of the lean years is no easy task. The president needs to persuade the country to invest in the future and pay for the past — past profligacy — all at the same time. We have to pay for more new schools and infrastructure than ever, while accepting more entitlement cuts than ever, when public trust in government is lower than ever.

On top of that, the Republican Party has never been more irresponsible. Having helped run the deficit to new heights during the recent Bush years, the G.O.P. is now unwilling to take any responsibility for dealing with it if it involves raising taxes. At the same time, the rise of cable TV has transformed politics in our country generally into just another spectator sport, like all-star wrestling. C-Span is just ESPN with only two teams. We watch it for entertainment, not solutions.

While it would certainly help if the president voiced a more compelling narrative, I am under no illusion that this alone would solve all his problems and ours. It comes back to us: We have to demand the truth from our politicians and be ready to accept it ourselves. We simply do not have another presidency to waste. There are no more fat years to eat through. If Obama fails, we all fail.



Finally managed to see the movie that the rest of the country saw weeks ago. (What can I say? I’m a busy girl.)

So, I’ll go with the consensus: beautiful movie, wonderfully impressive special effects, stilted dialogue, caricatures rather than characters, lame and predictable plot. I needed resuscitation at the end after being clubbed repeatedly over the head with obvious metaphors. I mean, come on, unobtanium? Subtle! I wonder how many names for this species-and-planet-saving-mineral were batted around before they settled on that one. Elusium? Greedium? Cantmineitwhileitsunderthattreeandallthosenativesstilllivethereium? Puh-lease, give us at least a little credit. Just because we’re all victims of the American educational system doesn’t mean we can’t pick up on a basic metaphor.

It does seem that, if someone is willing to spend as much time and as much money as it takes to make a movie as visually stunning as this one they could have invested a few more dollars in some decent writing and the development of characters of more than one dimension. Maybe they were using Star Wars as a model . . .

And yes, smoking used to signify some kind of rebellion or hardness of character (after it stopped being touted as a healthful activity in which all should partake), but it didn’t work for Grace. Is it possible that they were under the impression, (based on Sigourney’s performance in previous roles,) that she couldn’t pull off bitter, frustrated scientist without it?


Shave that Soul Patch!

Apolo Ohno is an amazing skater, and I love the drama and speed and excitement of short-track speed skating. But someone needs to hold this otherwise-really-attractive young man down and shave off the soul patch. Is someone telling him this looks good? It looks like a little bit of Donald Trump’s toupée found its way onto his chin. [A choupée?]

I mean look — isn’t that soooo much better?


Stop Sending Me Crap!

It’s true. I’m cursed with great credit. I was an “old woman” at 17, lived my life uber-responsibly, (anybody know how to have blogspot give me an umlaut?) and had to live out my teenage rebellion in my early 40s; but the effects of that gross strategic error are felt every day when I open my mail. I must be one of the 7 people in the country that the credit card companies still feel are worthy of their harassment. Yes, I have the same Master Card I’ve had since 1991. Yes, I usually pay my bill in full every month. [Yes, my former husband’s name is still on the account with mine because, despite the fact that the card is in MY name, I can’t just take him off, I have to close the account, lose all of the accumulated airline miles, and open a new one. As if.]


I keep getting these little packets of checks I can use to help stimulate the economy and try to assuage that persistent feeling that I’m not really happy, but I would be if I just had those boots or that coat or this glorified iPod named after a sanitary napkin. (okay, maybe the boots would help) LOW MONTHLY INTEREST! NO PAYMENT FOR 6 MONTHS! NO EFFECT ON YOUR AVAILABLE CREDIT BALANCE! NO! I don’t want these checks, they keep sending me these checks, and I can’t just throw these checks in the garbage for the underpaid, under-appreciated garbage collection workers to fish out of my dumpster from amidst the old chicken bones, shrimp skins and bags of used cat litter and use to buy groceries. As if I don’t have enough papers to deal with with 2 school-age children in the house and a college teaching job, I have to open each and every one of these envelopes, and extract the checks from the handy little “Convenience” pad they come bound in and shred them. (I have a whimpy shredder; what can I say, I’m cheap; and there are those boots I’m saving up for . . .)

Maybe I should just send them back from whence they came. If they used them, would THEY owe ME interest? Hmmm. . .


Let’s Ban Pairs Skating

Really. As said by that Canadian rock group and purveyors of modern wisdom Barenaked Ladies, it’s all been done before. He throws her (how hard can it be? she only weighs 60 lbs), they jump and spin a few times and take turns falling, and then there’s the death spiral; first this way, then that way. As far as I can see, the result of what must have been desperate casting about for new choreography has resulted in a series of “show-the-crowd-your-crotch” poses and an exploration of the various and universally awkward ways one can skate on one foot while holding on to the other. It’s not pretty. Don’t do it.


Chicken Olympics

Watching the Olympics. I’ve always loved the Olympics — the triumph of the human spirit combined with really difficult things done really well; what’s not to like? Okay, I’m not terribly fond of the overwrought, manipulative sentimental stories (there actually seem to be a lot fewer of them this time thank GOD!), but that doesn’t mean that I don’t tear up on cue and make vows to become more athletic maybe starting sometime next week.

Anyway, these skiers are amazing. Flying down this ice-hard vertical slope at what, 65, 70, 75 miles an hour on 4″-wide sticks of wood? I imagine myself flying over that first jump, shrieking in abject terror, throwing myself to the ground and curling up in the fetal position, where I lie, whimpering, until some kind souls on a snowmobile come with a sled to rescue me.

Also, despite rumors to the contrary, I seriously doubt that Olympians eat Chicken McNuggets. Of course, I don’t have any official verification of this theory, we’ll just call it a gut feeling. Not related to the feeling in my gut when I eat Chicken McNuggets.


(10) of the World’s Best Inventions

Okay, please add to the list as you see fit; by no means do I consider this to be definitive. I’m also going to try not to let it be just about food:

1. French press coffee. 1b. espresso

2. Asian take-out. Subcategories: shrimp sambal, hot-and-sour soup, crab rangoon, and the little divided plastic trays it comes in.

3. Feather pillows (one firm, one squishy).

4. Hot showers/baths. It’s a no-brainer — you’re clean, you’re awake, you’ve either warmed up (winter) or cooled down (summer). Throw in someone to wash your back, a little Clinique Happy shower gel and some gentle exfoliating cleanser and you’re practically in heaven.

5. Yoga. Ommmmmm. . . .

6. Mineral water. It’s fizzy, it’s tangy, it has 0 calories.

which has to lead me to

7. Wine. Any varietal except asti spumante and any but the best rosé’s.

8. Chocolate. Dark.

Hmmmm, mostly about food.

9. Sex?

10. SLEEP!!!

Okay — What does it say about me that sex was a question and sleep was in capitals?

Actually, it’s because I was realizing that sex would probably be considered more a discovery than an invention, and because I never get enough . . . sleep.


Care, Dammit!

I don’t know why herds of wasted youths, much like I consider myself to be, continue to congregate around plastic digital-cable systems instead of with one another, organically. Like many of the people with whom I interact on a day-to-day basis, I’m growing apathetic about my apathy. We don’t care that we don’t care. . .But if we continue along the path we’re collectively treading, our children are going to care even less than we do, and our leaders will be even better at bending the rules.

We’re very comfortable. We owe the world an interest in ourselves. We’re the superpower. But if we continue to hardly bat an eye when our leaders lie and cheat us, we could very easily just be an ordinary country, like, I don’t know, France.

Just imagine. France.

Apathetic youth hinder global change

I want these shoes.

And a budget that would allow me to purchase them.
And a back that would allow me to wear them.
Oh, and while I’m at it, a really kick-ass outfit to go with them.
That’s all.


Au Naturel?

I consider, on occasion, to stop futzing with myself. No makeup; scrunch the hair and let it dry. The Real Me. Let’s see if the world can take it.

I mean, what message am I sending my daughter every day as I cover uneven skin tone, accentuate non-existent cheek bones, and lengthen my puny eyelashes?

Isn’t it possible that efforts such as this are contributing to global warming?


Car Wash

Feeling pretty beat up by life lately.

Drove through the car wash yesterday to get 1000 miles worth of Michigan/Southern Ontario/upstate New York salt/slush/snow/mysterious black crap off of my shiny white Prius. It was a sublimely meditative moment; one I would have liked to have lasted for a few minutes longer.

Think about it — we need one of these! Every once in a while a little run through the sprayers and the scrubbers and all of the years of accumulated crap just disappear — family baggage, old/bad/wrong marriage baggage, inadequate parent baggage, professional disappointment baggage. And maybe a coat of perma-coat-wax seal to ward off future besmirchings. A bargain at any price.

P.S. Topic for another day: Why, when I search Google images for a picture of a “car wash” do I get, predominantly, pictures of scantily-clad woman draped over well-soaped sports cars? Get over it already!


Cheap Education

From last Sunday’s New York Times (February 7, 2010)

To the Editor:

Many of us have dedicated nearly a decade of training toward the profession of college teaching, only to face permanent economic insecurity and deplorable working conditions.

Elimination of tenure-track positions began long before the recent economic downturn. Both aspiring and tenured professors are alarmed at how the ranks of unprotected, underpaid adjuncts have grown over the past two decades. That change has also been an effective way to consolidate power at universities within the administrative class, and to alter the fundamental nature of college education.

The American university has long positioned itself as a place where the twin goals of research and teaching are brought together to promote advancement of thought. This model has largely explained why the best students worldwide covet degrees, particularly graduate degrees, from American institutions. The question we should be asking is what the casualization of the academic labor market means for our ability to continue as a leader of ideas.

Alicia Gibson; Hiroshima, Japan, Jan. 31

I traveled last week to a very prestigious institution on the East Coast to co-present on a very important, and relatively new, topic in my field. The school is one founded on the principles of intensive, expansive, high-quality education, and the development of informed and inquiring minds. The building was constructed decades ago to pay tribute to these lofty ideals — grand entrances, windows and ceilings that soar, ornate woodwork, beautiful tile. The students were eager, friendly, engaged.

I searched the internet at length the other day, trying to find a picture of a high school I’ve seen from up in the hills of northern Michigan to post here. It looks like a penitentiary. I’ve never actually walked the halls — it is possible, I suppose that the “view” from inside is pastoral and pleasant. The view from the outside and the idea of driving daily up to its doors fills me with dread.

One of the things we seem to have lost sight of in this country is the importance of actual learning, the importance of thought. In our quest for “fixing” the educational system, we develop more and more tests which teachers then must “teach to,” add teaching hours to the load, take away benefits or administrative support. It often seems that the people in charge are more concerned about the body in the front of the room than they are about what that “body” knows, or what contribution that person might be able to make to the field at large if they weren’t being driven to exhaustion.

Meanwhile, public-school classes in logic, debate, music, art, are either moved to zero hour, subject to enormous fees, or cut altogether. Windows are bricked over so the students aren’t “distracted.” Is the message then, in our pursuit of enlightenment, to look inward?

As the economy limps along, and I sock away every dollar I can so that my children can get what may end up to be an entirely inadequate college education, I wonder if most of the people “in charge” are completely missing the point. We need to be teaching our children, children of ALL ages, enthusiasm, creativity, discipline, ambition; not facts, but ideas.

A curriculum of thought. Sign me up.


How Long is YOUR Love Line?

I would love to hope that the hard-core Republicans would actually manage to get this woman nominated for President in the belief that My Fellow Americans would see through her idiocy, run her out of town, and keep people in office who actually want, and are able, to do something good for this country.

I’m afraid I don’t necessarily have that kind of confidence in MFA, though. Maybe we could just plant someone on her “team” to surreptitiously wash her hands, and her sudden inability to speak coherently would render her implausible. Oh. Wait. Never mind.


Kitchen Pet Peeves

1. The crap around the edges of the floor. Where does it come from? Are we really such slobs that we make that much of a mess every time we cut a slice of bread?

2. Knobs that catch in clothing. If you bet money that I could snag myself and yank open that drawer I don’t need with my shirt it would never happen.

3. No knives. The dishwasher is only half full; there are plates and bowls and glasses and coffee cups and forks and spoons galore, and not a clean butter knife in the house. Clearly there is too much toast being eaten around here. Something should be done. In the meantime, I’m stuck standing at the counter, buttering slices of cold baked potato (don’t ask) with a paring knife.

4. Salt and pepper shakers that require two-handed operation. I like the salt and pepper balls, but they’re a bitch to load and they break. My husband has purchased beautiful, dark wood salt and pepper grinders that fit comfortably in the hand and are a lovely accent piece on the table. But I can’t salt my own hard-boiled egg when I’m home by myself.

5. Counter clutter. My kitchen is small; our ideas are big. We’re coffee fiends (2 sizes of French Press, large adjustable-grind-and-portion grinder), have at least 11 different cutting boards, and the Kitchen Aid mixer is a behemoth. The production involved in clearing the counters is so daunting, I used it as an excuse not to make Christmas cookies last year.

6. The rug in front of the sink. It keeps your feet warm, cushions your tired insoles as you stand there and wash dishes, adds a nice color accent, and refuses to lie flat. It’s a pratfall (mine) just waiting to happen.

7. Open cupboard doors. I know when you’re 16 it’s important to be able to get to the food as quickly as possible at any moment of the day. It’s probably also important that you monitor the contents (heaven help the 9-year-old sister if she eats the last of the goldfish). But someone (probably me) is going to get hurt. And it looks bad. Look! They’re open again! Wait — are those pistachios?

8. Lights on. Always on. I just turned them off. They’re on again. There isn’t even anybody in there. Guess it’s important that we illuminate what’s in the open cupboards and keep visibility good so we don’t trip over that rug.


He likes me!

Remember, in high school (ugh! would you go back if someone paid you?), when that cute boy that you really really liked but were afraid to talk to came and sat down next to you in algebra? Asked you how you were doin’, if you had heard the new album by Styx (god I’m old), maybe even said he liked your hair that day? Remember? The thrill? How it would carry you through at least one day like you were walking on a cloud? He likes me! He likes me!

I get that feeling every great once in a while when either of my sons actually chooses to talk to me.

I have these fun, smart, quirky, clever, sons who like interesting music and love movies as much as I do and who share my sense of humor for the inappropriate or mildly perverse. But I can’t get them to talk to me.

My older son did actually call me from college a week or two ago, and we had a long, very lovely conversation. One of maybe 3 in the past 2 years. Since that conversation he’s broken up with his girlfriend of 3 years (she’s headed off to the Air Force, thousands of miles away; they’re not necessarily perfect for each other, but I’ll get into this another time) and when I email to inquire if he’s okay I get no answer. He will answer my science questions (i.e. Does coffee cool off faster in the bathroom when I’m taking a shower than it would in my kitchen?), but definitely not the personal ones.

And then there’s the 16 year old. Anything I ask is answered “I don’t know.” “I don’t know. I guess so.” “Why are you asking me this?” (Like I’m the FBI or something.)

Maybe it’s a guy thing.


Which one would YOU vote for for president?

I know there are those pesky naturalization laws, but at least Miss Cappucine speaks way better English.


Filth and Squalor

I just swept my kitchen floor.


Are you kidding me?

Listening to NPR today; a very interesting discussion about how the economic downturn seems to be affecting men’s employment more than women’s. I was running errands, so was in and out of the car, so I missed whether they talked about how this probably reflected rampant sexism in who was doing which jobs, but I did get back into the car in time to hear this: A woman caller, discussing the fact that she was working and her husband was at home with their little boy. She wasn’t complaining that they were unhappy finding themselves in roles they had not chosen, nor that her husband was an inept housekeeper nor a poor cook (apparently he’s neither). [She did comment on how much she missed cleaning, which is not a sentiment I recognize, and which did immediately make me a little suspicious.]

In any case, she was calling to inquire of the guests — I believe they were constituted of a researcher from the Pew Foundation and a woman psychologist or therapist who worked with families — as to what kind of confusing, disturbing, and/or damaging messages they were conveying to their young son regarding gender roles.

How those ideas can still be out there in the 21st century completely boggles the mind.


Real Women

There’s a Victoria’s Secret Catalogue in my bathroom, with a woman in a bathing suit on the front. I won’t even address the hideousness of the bathing suit, although it may have something to do with the body inside it. As you can see, she has a pretty face, thick, lustrous honey-blond hair and wide innocent blue eyes.

In any case, we’ve all had this discussion before: models are too thin, they don’t display a healthy, realistic ideal for us as mature women or for our daughters, etc. etc. But this girl looks deformed. There is something haunting about her; she looks like an adult-sized version of a nine-year old. It’s a bit disconcerting, like the old-man baby at the beginning of Benjamin Button.

I can’t buy most of the clothes in this catalogue because I can’t tell while I’m looking at them how they will look on me. Does this help them sell clothes? (A cynic might comment that it brings them a significant income just in shipping and “handling” charges. What does “handling” mean, anyway? Sounds a little creepy. Can I just have my packages shipped, or do they have to be “handled” first. Reminds me of the stories about how hotels will provide you with a bed warmer in fleece pajamas.) Anyway, back to the topic at hand (what was that again?) . . . oh yeah, some will say that clothes look best on thin women; does that mean the rest of us should run around naked? (shudder)


Where to begin

I’ve been writing in my head for years; (some might call it talking to myself, but I try to do it silently).

I think we all just want to be heard.

It seems like this first entry should be something momentous, but then it’s so intimidating I just keep walking away, so I’ll just start and see where it goes.

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