Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Like Fuzzy Dice, Only Not Really?

Sometimes TV is GOOD.

Not GOOD as in creative, or excellent drama, or great concept... GOOD as in, Live TV continues to be the place where things happen that just couldn't happen anywhere else. Like last night, on American Idol, when Paula Abdul said something truly hilarious and...well, random.

But I could somehow relate. Because once in a while something is just so wonderful, or cute, or yummy seeming, that you want to do eat it.


Watch this. Paula's contribution at 4:03ish.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Monkeybar Business

Speaking of Barbie being Bad Ass, our formerly cautious 4 year old has suddenly transformed herself into Adventure Daughter. Our girl used to not so much relish sliding down the slide. Or climbing or jumping off things (which I have never minded, since I am likely guilty of projecting my own Fear of Falling onto my firstborn).

But she's busting into nature and out of nurture, or just plain challenging herself, and it's very exciting to watch. First was our ski day. And more recently, a trip to the playground with her dad, who reported at dinner that she "spun uncontrollably on the spinning chair" and "slid upside down, backwards" down the slide.

And then there was the pull-up bar. She was pretty proud of her accomplishments there:

"Mom, so first, I put my hands around the bar and held on tight. Then I put my tongue outside my mouth and to the side (gestures to the middle of her cheek). And I pulled my legs up like I was sitting."

If I could, I would make her draw a Monkeybar How-to Guide, so she would not just describe, but draw that tongue as a key part of Doing Something Agro.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Barbie Nutcracker, the Movie

Our four-year-old came home from a sleepover at her cousins' house with a report for her godmother that the most memorable event of the evening was a viewing of The Barbie Nutcracker Movie.

Her godmother, my friend, looked at me questioningly.

I shook my head. "Believe it or not, there's actually a Barbie version of The Nutcracker."

"But, you might be interested to know that some moms I know who have the patience to sit through kids' movies WITH their kids have claimed that Disney movies are much worse in terms of reinforcing gender stereotypes. Apparently Barbie and her crew are more Bad Ass."

"Huh," responded my friend. "I guess Barbie has sort of been a Nutcracker her whole life..."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Kenya, the Musical

Tonight I saw our high school's production of Urinetown, a musical satire that spotlights the effects of abuse of authority, government corruption, greedy corporations, and even idealism. The plot centers on a town suffering from drought and the Corporation that "saves" it by requiring citizens to give up home toilets and pay to use public restrooms to conserve water (and garner lots and lots of cash for the Evil CEO). Violators are sent to "Urinetown," a euphemism for well...death. And then there's the young man who questions the law...and falls in love in love with the CEO's daughter...

(I loved that one of the actors dedicated his performance to his "loving" dog in the playbill, noting that the pup reminds him "every day that it is in fact, a privilege to pee"--referring to a memorable song in Act I).

It is a witty, smart show; it mocks its own form with a narrator who comments on the conventions of musical theatre, and there are burlesque numbers that parody gospel as well as Jewish folk music. As a vice principal, I understand why this show is particularly appropriate for high school students (despite its potty name): it condems arbitrary rules and celebrates freedom, but deftly warns against blind idealism.

There is familiar and contemporary imagery; the Evil Corporation's name is cleverly arranged in Enron's iconic, infamous tilted "E," and a slideshow projected on the set displays recent headlines and magazine covers emphasizing the play's themes. But despite all that is at first glance American about this play, much reminded me of what's happening in Kenya: masses of people led in one direction and then in another, promised greater freedoms and ownership and disappointed by corrupt leaders, again and again. And like in the play, reacting with violence in an eye-for-eye retaliatory fashion.

Near the end of the show, the rebels oust the Evil CEO, and under the leadership of a starry-eyed ingenue, gain back their right to pee freely. But the narrator is quick to point out that the water shortage will soon return, former rebels will die of thirst, and the big-hearted freedom-for-all leader of the masses will meet a fate not unlike her predecessor. And on and on. There is no happy ending to this show, because Urinetown is really YourOwnTown, where citizens must constantly battle runaway power, greed, and lack of common sense from the people who lead. And those leaders know how to sell a great bill of goods.

In the meantime, people suffer. The image of a little girl Holding It while trying to gather the last pennies required for the opportunity to relieve herself has an absurd and comical bent. But watching policemen erect roadblocks and require locals to pay bribes for passage on roads they paid for in part with taxes, taxes that don't properly pay policemen, while leaders squander money and squirrel it away in offshore accounts makes one realize that the absurdity of paying to urinate for the so-called Public Good and certain Private Gain, set to song, may not be far off...

There's no happy ending to this story. But at least in America, we can afford to laugh along the way.

You can read here about how Kenya's shared-power negotiations are breaking down as the opposition threatens civil obedience, once again, at the peril of the Kenyan people. And how one leader made an unexplained jaunt to Nigeria, while the citizens anxiously await their fates.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Best Week(end) Ever

Nothing like returning to work with a huge smile and the declaration that the weekend was wonderful (and not just because it was the weekEND).

The girls and I, sister-in-law-to-be in tow, drove up to join some neighborhood friends and relatives in the mountains for a snow/ski weekend. On Friday after a long day at work and my sister's Suddenly Possibly In Labor Eight Weeks Early Scare, I wasn't particularly looking forward to:
  1. The Packing
  2. The Long Drive
  3. Being Husbandless (dad had to work)

Nevertheless, I woke up Saturday morning excited for an adventure, and off we went, arriving by just past noon at our destination: a two-story house already occupied by seven adults and eight kids, with a sledding slope out back. Partaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!

I didn't expect to go skiing, actually. I was prepared to hang out at the house and build snowmen and do crafts with the littler kiddoes. But my four-year-old wanted to ski, much to my surprise. So she and I left her little sister behind and after long lines for lift tickets and rentals, we were outfitted and braving the Chair Lift for my eldest daughter's first run down the hill.

She loved it. We spent the rest of the day going up and down the hill, skiing side by side with my poles in front of us like we were tap dancing with a cane. Most memorable moment? When we were picking up some speed and she asked, gesturing with one hand behind her and risking our lives and limbs, "Mom! Is my ponytail flying in the wind?"

I was so proud of her attitude, her enthusiasm, and that she didn't give up because it was hard, cold, or cumbersome. Probably one of my favorite parenting days. And while I was on a pit stop during the drive home, she told my soon-to-be-sister-in-law her best part of the weekend was "skiing with my mom."

Meanwhile, my sister, with waters broken but only irregular contractions, is hanging at the hospital, trying to keep our newest little cousin safe inside until Friday at least. I am proud of her attitude, too :).

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Hearting over Hating in the Valentine Arena

As far as expectations go, this year's Valentine's Day exceeded them, for a few reasons in particular:

1. During our morning break, I found one of our high school alumni, a former student of mine, in the quad with a huge bouquet of roses. Roses, for His Little Sister. This guy is a football star at a local college. His sister is a freshman girl who can use all the support she can get. He came to school to bring her flowers in her English class. I couldn't help telling him that one of the best things that can happen to a girl in our society is growing up knowing that she has the unconditional safe love of a male in her family. He Gets That Already. And he's only like, 21. I wanted to high-five him hard enough to break his arm.

2. My littlest sister is 13 years younger than I; she was five when I left for college across the country. I lived relatively Far Away for the next eight years. When I came back "home," to reconnect with my younger siblings in particular, a job as a seventh grade teacher in my former middle school made this possible: a job in the school where my sister was in 8th grade. This created some challenges for our relationship, as I had to tell her best friends to stop running in the halls, etc. But somehow, despite the fact that I subsequently followed her to high school, we managed to remain close, mutually respectful of one another, and way closer than our age difference would suggest.

In the early years, when I was a homesick college freshman and she was a kindergartener, our correspondence and phone conversations ended similarly, with each of us challenging the other to up the love ante: "I love you as many grains of sand there are..." "And I love YOU as many stars there in the ENTIRE UNIVERSE."

A month ago I was shopping for books to give a new mother and her baby, books we love in our household. I happened upon a book called I Love You As Much... with quotes in it like, "I love you as much as the forest has trees." I bought it for my sister, intending to send it to her for Valentine's Day. And alas, here it sits, buried in the indomitable pile of papers beside my computer that I vow daily to wade through. I remembered today that I forgot to send it to her.

I came home from work this evening and in the stack of mail on the dining room table I found a flat package from Barnes & Noble. Intrigued, not expecting anything today, I opened it to find a note from my sister, finishing up a grueling year of nursing school in a city across the country: "I love and miss you as many pages of notes I have written this year," and a book called I Love You the Purplest. Purple is my favorite color, and the book has quotes in it like, "I love you the color of a cave in its deepest, hidden part..."

I don't know quite what to say, on Valentine's Day, about sentiments and gifts that happen at the same time for important reasons. Except that life and love can be so amazingly wonderful.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I Heart (Hate?) Valentine's Day

As a child, I developed a Love/Hate Relationship with Valentine's Day. And on its 2008 Eve, I am conjuring up some contemporary loathing after a period of Relative Neutrality.

This is directly associated with the fact that I have a four-year-old, and it's her first year of Valentine Trading at Preschool. Our task tonight was to produce valentines for her classmates, all 37 of them. Her preschool helpfully suggested that each student could just make 37 valentines with only the giver's name on, "From X Kid," or "Regards, X." So as to simplify the process. Hence, no list of all classmates sent home. I appreciate the sentiment, really I do.

But what this really means is that there are two options in this Choose Your Own Valentine Adventure:
  1. Parent writes X's name on 37 valentines on her behalf, or

  2. OCD Daughter X wants to remember each of 37 classmates and write their AND her own names on Each Flipping Little Card at 8:30 at night. And we have to Keep On Spelling as she Randomly Recalls Fellow Preschoolers. We curtailed this operation and turned it into a Write Your Own Name ONLY Assembly Line after Tears of Anguish and Confusion ("How will they know it's THEIR valentine, MOM????) and I'll Be Damned if she didn't write her name, DOGGEDLY, 37 times, in record time. That's my girl.
I had major waves of deja vu as I watched her pour her little heart into her little valentines, and explained to her AGAIN how it was all going to work tomorrow, this Valentine Trade Game. And I can only imagine that she is headed down the same path as her mother, the path of High Valentine's Day Expectations, Low Returns.

My mother reminded me of Valentine's Day in 2nd grade, when I woke up sick but didn't tell her because I So Very Badly needed to be at school for our Valentine's Day Party. I have a clear picture of myself, post-nurse's-phone-call-home-to-mom, walking down the hall with my "Heart Man" in one hand (made of a construction-paper-heart body, with four accordion-folded limbs with heart-shaped hands and feet attached--I know you know what I am talking about) and my mother's hand in the other.

In 5th grade, I talked my mom into letting me buy a Real Bona Fide Full-Sized Valentine (I must have convinced her it was for Someone Related To Me) in addition to the requisite Box O' Little Cheap Fold-Ups. The Big Valentine With Its Own Envelope was for Gary W. I loved him in my own crazy 5th-grade way, and surreptitiously put the Big Card in his Valentine Pouch on the back of his chair with High Expectations of I Am Not Sure What. The moment of Heart Rending Reckoning was when I witnessed him showing another boy that valentine, under his desk.

On the other hand, the best part of Valentine's Day has always been my father's annual gift and card, with his love behind them. He has continued this tradition whether or not we're married or grown up. I love you, Dad.

The other best part of Valentine's Day is knowing I have Real Love to count on Every Single Day of the Year. I love you, husband.

So I include here a poem I wrote for my husband some years ago. I used the poem "I Love You" by French Surrealist Poet Paul Eluard as a template.

I Love You

I love you for all the moments you aren’t here
And I love you for the space between us in the room
For the scent of night-blooming jasmine and the smell of the heater
Igniting in the hall
For the rain soaking our flower beds and for your garden gloves
For the grass no one’s stepped on
I love you for love
I love you for all the moments you’re here
Who hears me if not you—I hear myself so little
Without you I hear nothing but echoes and empty notes
Between the lips of passersby
There is nothing in the atmosphere to hold
I have not been able to listen in the silence
I’ve had to learn to love sound by sound
How easily I forget
I love you for your gentleness, which is not mine
For endurance
I love you for perfection which isn’t true
For you over whom I exert no control
You think you are now but you are just forever
You are the light that opens my eyes
When I raise my head to see

Happy Valentine's Day

Thursday, February 7, 2008

I'm A Survivor

Fan, I'll admit.

Some members of my extended family have nothing but disdain for my Reality-TV Habit (Note: I am only hooked to the "gateway" reality shows of Survivor and The Apprentice. I have yet to go all Project Runway or America's Next Top Model hardcore). But unlike people I know Who Pretend They Don't Watch Soap Operas, I own my Survivorism honestly. I can barely contain my excitement at the DVRed debut episode of the "Fans Versus Favorites" Season awaiting me in that little silver box by my TV (or in cyberspace, or wherever DVRed shows are stored...that technology alludes me...and honestly, doesn't interest me until it MALFUNCTIONS).

My middle school students in Washington, D.C. would regularly dis each other for the shoes they wore, despite the fact they were all struggling to be legit: few of them could afford the basketball kicks they truly lusted after. Because I myself sported shoes from discount stores which they Sometimes Accidentally Complimented Me On, I tried to convince them, "Hey! You have to OWN your Payless Shoes! Payless Shoes are COOL!"

But you can only imagine the skepticism with which they greeted my Enthusiasm For Cheap Shoes. And they would quickly return to calling each others' shoes "nasty," "dirty," and "ghetto." And I would continue to be glad there was a Dollar Store in my neighborhood. While they were busy trying to bust out of the confines of their economic circumstances, I was discovering that I could too. Having moved beyond college and high school (and while I was never exactly a Slave To The Trends), I no longer felt any pressure to impress people with the brands I wore/used. I was living in a working-class, urban neighborhood of diverse cultures. My students certainly loved to scrutinize my clothes (and my hair, and my word choices, and my food, etc...), but that tendency was more a symptom of our mutual curiosity about each other than anything else.

I recently visited a classroom at my high school where students were reviewing for a test on The Great Gatsby, discussing the novel's setting, the 1920s, and society's focus on wealth and fame. As a contemporary tie-in, the teacher had photocopied an article about recent trends in consumerism that apparently transcend class. For instance, Target, a discount store, has the cache of coolness among all kinds of Americans. "Grungy" fashion trends often camouflage who actually has money to spare and who doesn't.

Nevertheless, we're all conscious of what we do, wear, say, and watch, and what that says about who we might be and represent. Which is why, I explained to students, if you wear jeans that are "Sevens" you're acknowledging what's valued in denim today, and if instead you consciously sport uncool or vintage jeans, you're pretty much acknowledging the latest fashion and its hegemony, too--through deliberate flouting of What Everyone Else Is Wearing. Media and advertising are so pervasive that to be "in" is one thing, but to be "out" On Purpose appears to make you just as much a victim of Worrying About What You Look Like. I suppose the best case scenario is Not Knowing At All, and Hence, Not Caring, What You're Supposed To Buy To Be Cool and/or Hip. This is a little bit what it was like to live in Kenya: Blissful Ignorance of Many Things Unimportant.

Back to Survivor: I've told my students, among other nuggets of advice, Give Yourself Permission. What I mean by this is, as you grow, learn to sort out all the things you've been told aren't acceptable, aren't part of your class/culture, aren't RIGHT, and decide which of those you feel in your heart aren't so harmful. Despite your upbringing and peer pressure, for example, you might find:

1. A little Reality TV won't kill you
2. Cheap Shoes don't make you Totally Lame
3. There is more to Human Beings than their specific Religions, Ethnicities, Gender Identities, Sexual Orientations, Political Beliefs, and Cultures...
4. What makes you truly, healthily, heart-filled happy (and what doesn't hurt anyone else), is probably the Very Best For You. No Matter What Anyone Else Says.

So, I myself will continue to do some of the Dorky Stuff I have always done, and not worry TOO MUCH about what others think and what others say (on occasion, I will feel defensive of my unpopular choices, and on occasion, I will still succumb to trendy jeans and Pottery Barn Sheets).
But for now, it's Time For Survivor! Clear the couch!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Super (FAT) Tuesday

"Fat" goes without saying: I have leftover Zebra cake, strawberry buttercream cupcakes made by our Calculus teacher, the vanilla cupcake my kiddoes brought me at work yesterday, and leftover buffalo chicken from our Super Bowl Party. And my neighbor, claiming we needed to "eat too much" for Mardi Gras, brought over gnocchi with gorgonzola cream sauce and two bottles of wine for three adults and three Small Children. So we overindulged, like people about to see the last of their Republican Tax Breaks. I can only hope that it's true we're going to Experience Something New in 2008 (and that it will last for four years and more).

Super Tuesday is exciting in a way it hasn't been in a while. There is the given that we will have a New President, which is only guaranteed every eight years. And there's the possibility--no, PROBABILITY--of something very, very different. I am not going to show my entire Political Hand here, except to say I was fairly undecided until the last minute, and I voted "NO" on every proposition, which I daresay would make my brother proud, who professes, when it comes to propositions: "When in doubt, hell NO." (I did give careful thought to each one, mind you).

The election reminds me of some interesting elections from the past:

1. I was in kindergarten for the Ford/Carter presidential election of 1976. We had Scholastic Magazines with pictures of the candidates and we voted in our classroom. I remember specifically voting for Ford, on the following grounds:
  • He looked vaguely like my grandfather.
  • His name had four letters, like my favorite number, FOUR.

2. I ran for Commissioner of Records and Correspondence when I was in 9th Grade, against a pretty "Popular" 11th grader. Needless to say, I lost. He ran his entire campaign very simply, using my last name on his posters preceded by the word "NO." I remember people reminding me how many elections Abraham Lincoln lost before he won President. I remember thinking, "Whatever."

I lived in Washington, D.C. during Bill Clinton's administration. A lot of interesting things happened while I worked as a teacher between 1993 and 1996, only some due to the Direct Effect of Elected Officials:

1. The famous Federal Government Shutdown of 1995.

2. Big Ice Storms which caused Snow Days.

3. School Employee Furloughs. (This one is particularly interesting, in that to a Woman In Her 20s, with no one to support other than her Happy Hour Habit, the furlough was a welcome early vacation. Today, it would Freak Me Out, in that it would equate to a Smaller Paycheck).

4. Marion Barry reelected to City Council and then as Mayor in 1995, AGAIN, after being caught smoking crack.

Just to bring things full circle, I would point to #3 above as one of the reasons why Age (and Difference in Perspective) Matters in elections. And this election is particularly about Perspective.

So I can't wait to see What Happened. (To be fair, we didn't even crack the second bottle of wine. Maybe there will be something to celebrate tomorrow. What does Barack Obama call it? Oh yeah, HOPE.).

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Zebra Cake

For as long as I can remember, my signature birthday cake has been Zebra Cake. The recipe only requires two ingredients, chocolate wafer cookies (a bit hard to find, increasing the allure of Zebra Cake) and whipping cream. We've added peppermint and almond extracts to the whipped cream for flavor diversion, but the best kind is straight-up chocolate cookies and barely-sweetened cream. The cake is made by stacking and lining up chocolate wafers with whipped cream in between and slathered all over, shaped in a traditional log, circle, "U," or "double-wide." Refrigeration softens the cookies and when cut on the bias, the cake is stripey like the animal for which it's named. YUM.

We had some tonight, complete with three and seven candles in honor of my birthday, and a chorus of little cousins singing off key.

There used to be anxiety about Not Enough Cake for some leftover to take home (everyone wants seconds of Zebra Cake). But my mom made me my own little cake for tomorrow.

As my daughter likes to say, "Happy To Me!"