Sunday, May 31

We All Scream: My Life in Ice Cream

If I'm not mistaken, tomorrow is the first of June (see how sharp I am?) Pretty soon here, we're gonna have to stop denying that it's summer (or nearly so, for those of you who are sticklers for that whole equinox, "official date" thing). And summer means one thing, my friends. Ice cream.

But before I slide down that long slippery decadent slide into cold creamy reverie, I have to stop for a moment, and give credit where credit is due.

As you know, I've been known to be occasionally critical of various facets of my current state of residence, which is really a lot more about my affection for other places than my disaffection with here. But there is one thing about Boston that just doesn't exist anywhere else. Ice cream.
No, that's not what I mean. I know there's ice cream in other places. Lots of it. Some that's really really good.

But here's the thing, especially for those of you who have never visited the deep dark blue state of Massachusetts, where for five years now same sex couples have been able to dreamily gaze at one another over ice cream with the full endorsement of the state, even though we're not really a state, we're a commonwealth, which is pretty much lost on me. People in Boston eat ice cream--lots of it--all the time. Year round. When it's snowing out, when it's blustering, when it's pouring, when it's hot, when the leaves turn, pretty much anytime...there is a line at the ice cream store. It's not really a summer thing at all, with the exception of some small regional ice cream shops that close up for the winter, which kinda blows my premise here, but I don't really care.

Yeah. Really. Anytime. And it's GOOD ice cream. It's effin' amazing, and I just want to say up front (yeah, I know, too late) that I love that.

So back to June. And ice cream. And reverie.

Gladly. Thanks for reminding me.

Last night, I went to see the new Pixar movie, Up. I liked Dug (I thought it was Doug, but I love that it's not) the best, for what that's worth. Cute movie. My only regret is that I saw it in Boston, rather than in the San Francisco Bay Area. Why? Well, for the riotous applause moment. Because one of the finest moments of the film was, well, lost on the audience here. Aside from Dug, my favorite moment--the one that made me smile for days (well, it's only been about 12 hours so far, but I think it's gonna last, you can check in with me later)--was the ice cream reference (don't worry, I'm not spoiling anything). I think I smiled so big that I laughed out loud, which probably made the people around me (we were surrounded by recent masters degree graduates from MIT, one of whom worked on the film--we cheered for his 37 frames) think I was nuts (or wonder what they missed). There they were, the main characters, sitting on the sidewalk, counting red and blue cars (cars of color?), enjoying their Fentons ice cream cones (there were actually two, count 'em two, references to Fentons). And the sign was even the real Fentons sign.
If you haven't seen the movie yet, check it out.

My favorite memory of Fentons which is most famous for its sundaes, like this banana split,

was when a whole group of us stopped at Fenton's on our way home from a three day whitewater rafting trip in the Sierras. We sat at those old fashioned tables, and ate ourselves silly. Good times.

And then there's the stuff of memory. For me, it's a place called Peggy Lee's. Was a place called Peggy Lee's. (by the way, I would pay good cash for a photograph of Peggy Lee's--I am so far convinced that one does not exist anywhere in the world). It was on Laurel Street in San Carlos, California, next to Morrissey Liquors and near the intersection of White Oak Way. This is the building, now, after multiple facelifts--Peggy Lee's closed more than 30 years ago. Peggy Lee's was where the yellow building is.

It was a nearly religious hangout for all the kids in my neighborhood when I was in elementary school--everyone was there, sitting on the old aluminum lidded ice cream chests, and buying penny candy, which was (gasp) actually a penny. The scoopers were a mother and son--his name was Vince, but I can't remember her name. I wish I could. I used to get root beer slushes, mint chip ice cream dipped in chocolate (that was my dad's favorite too) and sometimes blue bubble gum ice cream with pieces of colored gum balls in it. Not too long ago, when I reconnected with a childhood friend (hiya, Marc) via the wonders of the internet, this was one of our first topics of conversation--"I remember blue bubble gum ice cream..." Yeah. You sure do. Me too.

You know, when I started writing this, I don't think I really knew the central place that ice cream seems to play in my history. I'm finding out that I can actually write my bio via ice cream (kinda scary). Let's see.

I met my one and only high school boyfriend at the Baskin-Robbins in San Carlos, which was the only place to go for ice cream after Peggy Lee's closed. No comparison. He worked there. Whoa, what a memory that is. Ew.

There also used to be that Edy's ice cream store in Town and Country shopping center in Palo Alto--real old fashioned place. They called the mint chip "Emerald Isle".

Oh, and of course, Farrells (ohmigod, it still exists) where they had a player piano and much revelry and a Victorian style menu and they made you stand on a chair and sang to you on your birthday and put on a heck of a kids party. I always used to eat a tin roof sundae there, which was vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, and spanish peanuts. This is me (dig the blue pointy glasses!) on my ninth or tenth birthday, you can see the tin roof sundae in my hand--the only thing I remember from that party is that this waiter guy scooped some whipped cream off my sundae onto his finger and he was holding it up to my mouth and telling me to lick it off, which is so disgusting and offensive that I can barely even write about it and which I am thinking may be responsible for my becoming a lesbian. :)

Oh, and the really good softies at Fosters Freeze in Menlo Park. Still there too, looks exactly the same, still really good softies, WAY better than DQ, which I think is nasty. Iconic.

Then there's college. This is my college boyfriend (why is he looking at her so adoringly?) and one of my roommates at Mountain High Ice Cream (upstairs, in the loft) in the Russell Shopping Center in Davis, CA, circa 1978 (great restaurant next door that we frequented all the time but I can't remember the name...Bev?). They had wicked good honey vanilla ice cream, which we put carob chips on. Hey, it was the 70's.

I never did quite get the fuss over Buds, which I note is still called "Buds Ice Cream of San Francisco" but which is made in Bangkok. I thought Double Rainbow was a pretty good addition to the market. And there's always gelato, though I think it's overpriced (except for that seasonal pumpkin gelato at Gelato Classico in Palo Alto--nowhere else).

Speaking of Boston (which I wasn't, but I'm trying to bring this whole thing full circle, you understand...stay with me....), when I was in high school, I had the great privilege of visiting Boston (my sister lived here), and frequenting the phenomenon that was Steve's Ice Cream in Somerville. When it was the real Steve's Ice Cream. The stuff (and the place) of legend. Yeah, it was the best thing I had ever had. Lucky for me, it morphed, relatively quietly, into Herrell's some time back now, and although Herrell's never developed the fanatical reputation for mix-ins that Steve's had, it's still my favorite ice cream around. Now there's mostly just toppings (yeah, I know Herrells will mix 'em in, but no one does that anymore--it was required at Steves) Toppings are good, they're fine. It's not the same.

The unfortunate thing is that when you describe the phenomenon of Steve's to people, they say "Oh, like Cold Stone Creamery!" No. Gawd, no. They have terrible ice cream. Gooey-ness is the name of the game, kids. What Steve Herrell calls "low air". Now you're talkin'.

I'm a purist about ice cream. I am about most foods, for that matter. I'm not one of those people who don't like things mixed together, that's not it. I'm just one who doesn't think that weirder is better. Mexican food is mexican food. Vegetables are vegetables. Ice cream is ice cream. That's why, even though people here LOVE Christina's, it's not really my thing. Emack and Bolio's? They pass muster, but only on a couple flavors. Good name though. Of the seasonal places, I like Ericksons, but mostly because of the feeling of a summer ice cream place and the fact that they sell doggie ice cream. Oh, and I didn't talk about Ben and Jerry's. Yeah, they're good. They got the idea from Steve, y'know. Cool factory tour in Vermont.

And of course, a couple of summers ago, I discovered the middle of the country (well, okay, I didn't discover it, it was there all the time. I just went there). And there I discovered frozen custard. Uh-oh. Sheridans. You can even read about it on our trip blog from way back then, which is still up. The post is here. So now I'm also a big fan of frozen custard (especially black raspberry). These days, I get it at The Chilly Cow, whose website, I just discovered, plays music like Ferrell's, which is leaving me a little bit traumatized, but I'll get over it, thanks for your concern.

I told you there was a lot of ice cream in Boston.

And then there's the whole Toscanini's vs Herrell's thing. Geez, it's like the Montagues and the Capulets. I'm not getting into that one here. If you want to discuss it, you know where to find me. But some things are best left alone. Yeah, I know the New York Times calls Toscanini's the "best ice cream in the world". Please to remember: New York is a pizza and bagel town.

Ice cream is important. I've decided this.

It's the stuff of childhood. It's one of those things that's really bad for you that people who never eat bad stuff still seem to eat. It's so good that they even make versions--lots of 'em--for people who don't eat dairy, proving the point that this just may be a food product that people can't live without. My sentiments exactly.

Ice cream has apparently even been the stuff of scandal (scroll down to the marvelous pic of Einstein & Gödel) at some upper echelon universities (Jane, Joan, you'll always get a second chance with me) which makes it all the more impressive that two of the best scoops you can get anywhere are within spitting distance of Harvard Yard.

So, what's YOUR life in ice cream? I can't be the only one. Any and all stories encouraged, especially those with accompanying embarrassing photographs from, shall we say, a more youthful time.

Oh. It's almost summer. Any day now I start making my homemade peach ice cream. Nothin' like it. Drop in anytime.

Saturday, May 30

Murder and Other Shortcomings

I kill plants.

Did you know that? Well, now you do. I kill plants.

To be honest, it's more like a massacre. You could call me the Crazy Horse of horticulture. I charge right on down on them and kill 'em all. Serves 'em right. Oh. Wait. Never mind.

I've tried. Lord knows I've tried. I fork over the money for the plants. I buy seeds and try to start the plants myself. I try to hook up with some people who don't kill plants so they can teach me how not to kill plants, or least help me buy some plants that are less killable. I feel like Seymour Krelborn--whaddya want from me, blood? ( on the arrow under the black thumb above)

In my heart, I am one of those "cottage garden" people. I want to live in a place surrounded by green and color and lushness and serenity like this (I'll take the place, too, while you're at it):

or this:

But I can't. Because I'm a murderer.

Don't try to be encouraging. Don't reassure me that if I "start small", I can build up. I have tried to start small. Like pansies. I love pansies. I love when they appear in the stores in spring with their "hardiness" strutted out all over the place, and every year, I see them, and I think "I can do that". And I did do it once, and they lived for quite awhile, if sparsely, and that encouraged me. So this year, anxious to bring a little (or a lot) more color into my life and my walkway to my front door and my humble abode, I got to work. I cleared the really messy front flower bed, I cleaned up the yard, I bought and installed a really cute window box , I bought some gorgeous pansies. Beautiful. Sumptuous. Seductive, even. They looked like this:

Now they look like this:

Why, Robin, you say, why can't you research this just like you do everything else? Come now, Robin, you've always been the one to figure things out. Surely, Robin, you could look this up and find out what's wrong.

I did. You know what's wrong? I kill plants.

Yeesssss, I did also figure out that they're not in a spot where they get enough sun. And that they get "leggy" (even I can figure out what that means, but the shoe fits, which is an excellent mixed metaphor, if I do say so myself--on the other hand, "the foot bone's connected to the leg bone", so maybe not) when they don't have enough sun. And okay, so I didn't water them enough for awhile because the hose was leaking and I had to buy a new one, a really long one that will stretch from the sole spigot on the back of the house all the way around to the front yard, and like I said before, I'm not exactly rolling in cash, so that took me a while and besides, how am I supposed to know how much water they need, especially when the weather changes by 50 degrees in one day, and then I probably watered them too much because they looked sad and I'm an empath.

And I do know that impatiens, a flower I also really like and whose name is a perfect match for my attitude toward gardening, is now available and would probably do a lot better in that spot, as well as in the window box, which is under the roof overhang which is something I didn't think about when it came to counting on rain for watering. And I guess I could have figured out ahead of time that that spot was shady, because when you're planting you're supposed to know those things, even though I have never really figured out how you're supposed to gauge such things and how anyone really knows unless they sit and watch their garden (on a sunny day, of course) so that they can calculate exactly how much sun or shade a particular area gets, which implies a whole lot less busy life than I have. Though it's possible that I should be able to figure out that the many old and large trees in my yard might make it shady. I didn't think of that.

I know there are books I can read about this. I probably own ten of 'em. And there are even websites that tell you what to do every week by know, "This week, plant strawberries and azaleas...". Or whatever, I'm just making that up to show that I know the names of stuff that people plant. Good, eh? And you can just follow the directions. It sounds so easy. Then why, year after year, do I live in a place that would be better suited to a rusted out car in the side yard than to someone reciting poetry professing love on a stone bench on a garden path? Hmm?

It's not recent. It's always been this way. I remember I had a purportedly hardy little house plant in college, oh, a gazillion years ago. I think it it was a philodendron (I killed the wandering jew, which kinda seems like genocide, and the coleus). When it was on its last legs, I brought it home to my mom, who is a genius at this stuff (hint: I did NOT get these genes). Last I checked, it was still alive and thriving in the back bathroom, which coincidentally now functions as the guest bedroom, so it's still sitting there thumbing its green nose at me every time I visit. I've thought about spitting at it, but it might like that.

The killer (ha) is that I never seem to give up. I always seem to think that one of these days I'm going to be able to do it, that I'm gonna have a garden, even a small patch, that looks luxurious and colorful and which welcomes me home after a long day at my non-job. In fact, the reason I'm sitting here writing this is to keep me from going out right now and dropping a whole 'nother wad of cash on some new plants to replace the ones I have almost killed. I want it to be pretty.

Don't tell me to hire someone to do it, like, say, someone who doesn't kill plants. I don't have that kind of money (I quit my job, remember?), and I don't even own my house, ferevvinsakes. Though that still means there is no obstacle to planting annuals, because there's no big homeowner kind of investment in that. Sheesh. That's what I tried to do. And don't tell me that the solution to the expense is to grow them from seed, which is cheap, or to use cuttings (which seems like Advanced Homicide to me, I'm not really ready for that yet). I do that every year too, grow 'em from seed. You might even remember. I was positively giddy when they sprouted. But then there are all those rules about taking them outside for just a few hours and bringing them back in and the dates after which they can or can't be outside, and how they have to get transplanted into bigger containers when they get some sort of indeterminate size, and all that. I get overwhelmed. I let 'em sprout, I am so happy, then I kill 'em.

And then there's the bygones. Of course. The hydrangea--one of my very favorites, I could gape at them for hours--that I planted probably ten years ago at my old house is finally thriving and getting sizeable, and now I don't live there anymore. I know. It's karmic payback. I get that, and I accept my fate, head bowed.

Don't even get me started on the pH stuff and "soil amendments". Oh. My. God.

All I've gotta say is, thank god I'm really good at growing kids. I'd pretty much have to throw myself under a truck otherwise.

Gotta go. Plants to buy.

Friday, May 29

I'm not really so into Isaac Newton

Okay, so the folk music piece just isn't dying.

It started in the most unlikely of places. With this article.  It is the most invigorating, reassuring, and genuinely honest piece I've read about the march toward equal marriage, and its most recent branch-in-the-road, the Prop 8 decision in California.  There is no way I could have possibly said it better than Mr. Morford, even though it is exactly what I would want to say if I was gonna say something.  Be sure to read it, k?

(Come to think of it, I kinda did say it.  You probably don't know this, but my family was part of a Showtime movie about equal marriage several years back, when Massachusetts made it legal. Okay, so it wasn't really my idea and a little tiny bit against my will, but I was in it anyway.  If you saw it, you may remember my "It's not about us" mini-rant at the end.  That's what I was trying to say. He still said it better.)
I mean, I like the videos that have come out, all the ads that illustrate so cleverly how absurd it is that people should get to vote on other people's marriages.  It's a "duh" that for some reason, they don't seem to get in the wonderful if arrogant state of my birth.  But then again, there's quite a bit they don't get, including the idea that it should be kind of hard to change a constitution (at least if it's supposed to mean anything), the idea that California really should be two states, and the idea that being gay, male, rich, and living la vida loca in Los Angeles means that anything you want should pretty much happen automatically (surprise!)  On the other hand, they do get that you shouldn't put heavy or valuable things up on high shelves, especially above where people sit, something that still startles me in Boston, especially in those Italian restaurants in the North End (what's with the North thing, anyway?  North End, North Beach..??), even though there aren't usually earthquakes here.  There could be.  There have been.  Oh.  Wait.  I forgot.  That would be proactive.  Never mind.

But anyways, back to folk music.

As I was reading the article above, I was most struck by three little words:  "You've already lost". And of course, because, well, I'm me, a song started playing in my head.  For those of you that don't know, I have an internal soundtrack.  Actually, I think it's kinda cool.  Sometimes it's faint, and I can barely make it out.  Sometimes it's oblique, and I have to follow a trail of breadcrumbs to find the actual song.  And sometimes it's like I'm standing right next to the speakers in the Winterland Ballroom (if you don't know the reference, you should, this is history we're talkin' about).  

Today was one of the Winterland ones.  Maybe (probably) because it was Dylan

And then I got sad.  Really quickly.  Because once this happens, I'm walkin' around everywhere, singing the song, humming the song (I'll have to tell you a funny story about that subconscious humming sometime, or maybe I'll let Phoebe tell you), doodling the words, all kinds of stuff...but mostly singing.   Phoebe said (as she usually does when I sing something incessantly) "Is that one of your songs from chorus?"  And I said "No, this is a song I have known my whole life."  

Here's the thing.  When a song comes on this strong, I not only walk around singing it, but I want so much to sit around and sing it with others (singing in community carries its own amazing power, as I hope you know).  I close my eyes and transport myself to a rally where we are all singing this song together.  Now.  Because of this issue.  Because of this vote.  Because of this article.  I'm wishing that right this very moment.

And that's when I hear the voices (the ones that are a matched set with the rolled eyes).  The ones that say I'm "crunchy" or old or a throwback.  The ones that say "I don't know that song", which just makes me feel like we have failed, I have failed.  Best of all, the ones that say "I'm not really into Dylan."  That's where I fall over.

Not really into Dylan?  What does that mean?  Does it mean they don't like his singing voice?  Join the crowd.  Does it mean they think it's for old people, like their parents or maybe (gulp) their grandparents?  Does it mean that they don't want to be associated in any way with the word "hippie"  (which, btw, I keep seeing young people spell "hippy", which irritates me to no end aside from the fact that being hippy is a whole 'nother thing altogether and also makes me feel like we've missed the boat in history class)?   Does it mean they're too cool for folk music, because all people who like folk music are like the characters in A Mighty Wind?  What does it mean?

Because here's the thing, and if I sound preachy, I gotta say that I just don't care.  Dylan is a genius.  Dylan is an integral part of our history, not only music history, but political history, sociocultural history.  You don't have to like his music, you don't have to buy his recordings, you don't have to go to his concerts, you can be creeped out by how he looks or talks or sings. But he has changed the world, and you should at least know that.  

I'm not so into Dylan?  It's like saying I'm not so into Einstein.  You can like him, you can not like him, but you should know what he did.  It's as simple as that. 

You will be happy to know that I am not, in this space, at this time, going to get into talking about Ferron, who is easily as much of a genius and a world-changer as Dylan (and it's not just me that thinks so).  Another day.  We should all know about her, too, if only as a lesson in how white heterosexual male privilege is alive and well and so fully imbued into our culture that we don't even know it or believe it when we see it.   Okay, right, I'll stop now.

The thing about folk music is that there are a few songs that are iconic.  Songs that we should all be able to sing at a moment's notice, simply because of their ageless ability to match world or political events over and over again.  Let's just say they come in handy.  

Then, when it's one of those times when one of the songs is the perfect fit,  you could show up and sing with me, which would just make me really happy.  

This is one of those times.  If you know it, sing along.

Thursday, May 28

Here's What I'm Writing Instead

I am not one to miss a message, even if I have been known to live on a rural route with no regular mail delivery, so the messages sometimes don't quite make it to me in the time you might think they should.  It's a metaphor.  Get it?

It's been pointed out to me that I have been absent from blogging for a few days now. I guess that's good (not the missing, but the reminder).   Not that I didn't know or anything, but it's nice to be missed, even when being missed is not a conscious strategy, but a natural outgrowth of being a person.

It's also been pointed out to me that [insert buzzer sound here] I have not, in fact, won the big (nonexistent) prize that comes as a result of completing the nablopomo challenge of writing every day for a month.  Ouch.

So, it seems time to answer the question....where have I been?  Well, like most things around these parts, there's a short answer and a long answer.  And I bet you know that I'm going to give you both of them.  That's good.  You're catching on.

The short answer is boring.  Short answers are always boring--if you're one who loves story, that is.  

The short answer is that when I'm busy picking up and rinsing off all of the Especially Delicious Cantaloupe pieces from the sink after I spilled them out accidentally when I was trying to pour off the excess liquid from the bottom of the tall recyclable plastic container because I don't like mushy cantaloupe, I just don't have much time to think about blogging.  Well, that's not quite true.  I have plenty of time to think about it.  Just not much time to do it (not to mention the assumed risk of a sticky keyboard).  

As long as we're in the neighborhood, let me also say that falling asleep with my face on the keyboard also doesn't so much make for the best blogging, or so I've found, anyway.  It doesn't make for particularly good sleeping either, come to think of it, though it does if you put the computer away and go to bed.  A fine idea, though not one that comes with prizes.

The longer answer is the one that is about messages, about listening to the signs and symbols and messages that may be sent to us by our friendly neighborhood universe, open 24 hours.  Dammit.

The story begins with one of the perils of parenthood, namely the illusion that our children are somehow going to be like us.  And it ends with a year's worth of dog food.  Don't worry.  You'll get it.

Let's see.  How to explain this in the least damning way possible.

When I was a kid, I was an overachiever.  I'm not an overachiever anymore, which explains why I repeatedly sign up for a challenge where absolute perfection is the sole route to success.  I was also a bit of a goody-two-shoes, a teacher's pet, a bit of a nerdy smart kid, compliant, a target for get the idea.  I loved school, my teachers loved me, and I got straight A's.  In elementary school, anyway.  High school?  Not so much.  And college?  Let's not talk about college.  But in first, second, third grade, I was golden.

I have a kid who is, well, not so much that way.  And as ashamed as it makes me to say it, I just don't get it.  Why would anyone want to argue with teachers?  Why would anyone want to sabotage assignments?  How could recess be my kid's favorite part of school, when book reports are so cool?  Why isn't a visit to the office horrifying?

As you might imagine, this has led to its share of conflicts.  Okay, let's just call them meltdowns.  For me, not as much for her.  And what does she say to me in those moments?  "I can't be perfect in school!  Nobody's perfect!" (why yes, as a matter of fact, I have been accused of having rather high standards a few times in my life--how did you know?)  And there I stand, trying to be the understanding parent, when in my head, I'm thinking "Why not?  I was!"  (you can stop laughing now). 

Oh my god.  I can not believe I am saying this "out loud".  True confessions stink.

And so here I am, tonight, thinking about Nablopomo.  And failure (whatever that is). I'm thinking about why I signed up for it for three months running now, whether I will sign up again in June (probably), what it does and has done for me in regard to blogging (a lot), what I know about the role of coaches in my life, and about the notion that some people need a little external stimulus and that's not necessarily a bad thing.  But most of all, I'm thinking that any system that is set up such that anything short of 100% is failure is just ridiculous, not to mention unrealistic.

I may have gotten all A's, but I didn't score 100% on everything.  Nobody's perfect.

Come to think of it, there was that one visit to the principal's office.  I got caught leaning back in the lunchroom (remember linking your feet under the railing on the metal foldout lunch tables and leaning back and trying to touch your head to the floor?)   

Yes.  For one brief shining moment, I was a hooligan. You wanna make something of it?

Oh, yeah.  The dog food.  It's the lovely parting gift.  

Thanks for playing.  

Here's What I Was Gonna Write

I was gonna write about the times we live in.

I was gonna write about freedom and equality and softball and poison ivy.

I was gonna write about the chasm between generations, about gratitude, shoulders, and selective and collective amnesia.

I was gonna write about the paradox of being a Californian in the days following the Supreme Court decision on Prop 8 while celebrating the fifth anniversary of equal marriage as a longtime resident of Massachusetts.

I was gonna write about folk music and about those who snort loudly and roll their eyes at its mention.  I was gonna write about the irreplaceable and holy relevance of folk music in times when change is afoot, and how the reflex of apparent dismissiveness leaves so many cold in the storm, unaware that there are well-worn blankets to wrap around themselves, ones that have the potential to offer powerful warmth and surprising familiarity.

I was gonna write about invisibility and separation and how some things are only noticed in their absence.  And I was gonna write about how that makes me sad.

I was gonna do links and pictures and stories and thoughts and feelings that pulls all of these things into a neat, or not so neat, narrative.  

I was gonna write solely in the present tense, as the most powerful people and the most brilliant writers in my life have assured me that this is the way to write, and I believe them.

I was gonna write it all in pieces, stretching it out across hours, or better yet, days, in the interest of meeting the challenge I have set for myself.

That's what I was gonna write.  Just so you know.

Saturday, May 23

Ilities & Anities

You know. Humility. Insanity. Adaptability. Applicability. Ability. In-breeding. Oops. Sorry. I got carried away.

I'm looking back and realizing that I've already commented on this here, at least in a manner of speaking. But much to my shock and dismay, the world hasn't changed yet, so it appears to be time to say it again. Do you have your thinking cap on? I'm wondering if maybe that was the problem. Look how hard this little girl is trying. Give it a go.

Yeah, I know. Miss Nancy let you down, and never saw you through the Magic Mirror. The same thing happened to me. It was a hard road, but I've recovered (take what you like and leave the rest). So can you. So get out your thinking cap anyway. The grudge thing may be satisfying (don't I know it), but it's unbecoming.

This time, I am inspired once again by a video, which came to me courtesy of a facebook friend. Here you go. Take a look see.

Come to think of it, that's not quite true (that it inspired me). The video is interesting, sure. But in itself, it does not compel me to write. It's the responses, the comments, the fact that this video, and others like it, have apparently been created and circulated for years now. There's a lot of "interesting" and nodding going around. But there is still a serious problem. I see a lot of knowing nods, but I don't see people demanding anything different out of our schools. And that, my friends, is what gets me fired up.

Now, I'm not a big fan of trite. But you know that thing about the definition of insanity? About doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? Well, welcome to our educational system. Yes, even under Obama.

Every time something like this comes up, every time a friend posts something like this video, every time I see some "startling" (yes, that does belong in quotes) article in the news about the future job market or how right-brained folks are the future (blah blah blah, though everyone should read this book just so that we're all in the loop), it makes me want to scream.

There is no doubt that we have no clue what our children's futures will be like, what jobs will be like when they are grown, but we continue to educate them as we were educated. For a different time, for a different era, for a world that is largely long gone. As that wonderful Gibran poem and song says "...for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams". Amen.

Yes. Competition (if that's what you want to call it, though don't you think it's a bit of a misnomer in a global economy and a digitally interconnected global community? What difference does it make if we're all working together?) is fierce. One country has better math scores. Another has more honors students. We have to catch up, we have to do better, we can do better than them--these are the mantras. Our best universities are packed with foreign students! We have to find out what they're teaching, how they're teaching, which curriculum to use, how much more homework to assign, how long the school day or year needs to be, what we can do to dominate the world educationally. Why we want or need to do that, I'm not quite sure, but that's what they say, anyway. Don't shoot the messenger.

Here's the problem (ATR*). And here's where it gets sticky. Very sticky. The answers to these questions--the reasons why we do not do as well as other countries, why our children are not as prepared to compete (it makes me shake my head every time I write it) as those in some other countries--are very unpopular. And most definitely politically incorrect. They have, in my view, far more to do with homogeneity and heterogeneity, than with anything even remotely related to our public school system or methods of assessment. But we can't talk about the former. So we tinker endlessly with the latter.

It's got a whole lot in common with one of my other favorite arguments...that when children are failing in middle school, we look at how they were or were not "ready for kindergarten".

Now, don't get me wrong. You couldn't meet anyone on this planet who would advocate more vigorously for early intervention and comprehensive high quality early education than yours truly. I've devoted my whole professional life to it.

At the same time, I defer, as ever, to a comment made years ago by Ed Zigler (one of the founders of Head Start, Sterling Professor Emeritus at Yale, and Director Emeritus of the Edward Zigler Center on Child Development and Social Policy at Yale) at a meeting I attended with him at Yale. He was discussing the successes and pitfalls of early education, and mentioned just the scenario I outlined, in which early education is "blamed". He responded directly to those in elementary education, those complaining about children "falling behind". He said, and I quote, "Early education is not an inoculation. I sent them to you ahead in kindergarten. What have you done with them since then?". Double amen.

Look. I'm a parent. I've got a kid in public school (one of the best districts in Massachusetts) Maybe you have a kid in public school too. Or even private school. Same deal. While you're watching these videos, and reading these articles and books about the future need for right-brained ability, for creativity, for thinking "different", stop and think. How much of that do you see reflected in the curriculum and practices of your local school? Would you know it if you saw it? Do you see those things being measured or valued? Or do you see largely what you remember from school---worksheets, tests, facts, multiplication, division, fractions (do we really think in 20 years that ANYONE is going to do math on paper?), standard reading comprehension, mass-produced social studies texts? Do you see things like these revised lesson plans?

So how do we respond? We argue for continued "higher standards". Who could argue with that? President Obama says "The solution to low test scores is not lower standards; it's tougher, clearer standards.". Maybe, just maybe, the problem with low test scores is TESTS. It's like the person who looks for their keys far from where s/he dropped them because "the light is better over here".

To his credit, Obama acknowledges that standards must not "simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking, entrepreneurship and creativity." That's good. It's a start. But it still misses the point. Testing, "standards", rubrics, hierarchies....these things are left-brained analytical constructs. You simply can't measure real creativity and critical thinking that way. Out-of-the-box thinking can only be measured in out-of-the-box ways by out-of-the-box people. To my knowledge, our education systems are not overflowing with those folks (yeah, I'm prone to understatement).

Obama says that his plan will be "tied to results". Tough to take issue with that. Results are good.

I still have a question (I always do). It's about this "results" thing.

Better results? Or different results? They are distinct. I'm for the latter. I'm not holding my breath.

In the meantime, I'm keeping this sign up on our living room wall, where it's been since my daughter was born.

I've been told that I'm asking for trouble. I sure hope so.

*According To Robin (of course)

Friday, May 22

Coming Clean

Every blogger has his or her little tricks.   Some use their tricks to keep finding something to write about, especially if they've done some lame fool thing like committing to writing every single day.  Some have a following, and they may feel that they have to generate the "voice" that their loyal readers have connected to and know.  Some feel free to use the medium more like a true journal, sharing daily events, photos, personal stories.  Some offer a service to others, like the One Minute Writer, where readers can find a daily prompt about which to write for a maximum of 60 seconds. I love that one.

And some of us just flounder around.

Today, for some reason, I am drawn to a variation on a theme. Well,  more like what a dear old friend of mine would call a "bastardization" rather than a "variation", but hey, it's my blog, I can call it whatever I want.

Shelly, on her blog, has a feature called "Only the Good Friday".  On Fridays, she writes about something good.  It's that open-ended.  And she invites others to join her.  It's a really nice idea. Good attitude, good karma, good energy.  

It's so not me.

I'm thinking maybe Judgment Friday would work better for me.  That way, I could save up all the judgments I have, all those things that make me feel like qualifying that I'm not really a nasty person (but which really indicate that I am really just a person, since who among us doesn't have any judgments?  come on....) and on Friday, I could share maybe one, maybe two, of 'em.  Let some of the steam out.  

Being the nerd I am, I'm thinking...oh, what if some other clever blogger (because clearly they would be clever) has had this idea, much as Shelly has come up with her more virtuous version.
I don't want to be stealing anyone's thunder.  So I checked.  Lo and behold, I found this.   He calls it Value-Judgment Friday.  I can work with that.  

I always encourage comments, mostly because I love conversation, and without comments, well, this is sorta one-sided.  This time, I offer a little guidance.  Please feel free to leave your own judgements.  Every Friday.  Whether I post on that theme or not.  I'll try to remind you.   It's cleansing, kinda like going to confession, which I know nothing about, but it seems like a good metaphor.  It's freeing, kind of like posting on Secret Spineless Whine. And you'll make me feel better. So (not to mix religious metaphors), it's a mitzvah.

On the flipside, don't bother telling me that I'm like, so judgmental (or intolerant, or politically incorrect or whatever).  I know.  That's the point.

Here's my judgment for today.

So my daughter recently started running with a track club that is offered by my town's fabuloso rec dept.  She's been wanting to do this for a long time, she loves to run, it's been great.  She usually likes me to hang out to watch.  It's spring, it's that beautiful time of evening, there are bleachers--I usually do stay.  So do several of the other parents.

One of the parents who waits has three children (she could have more, I only see three).  She has a son in track, and two younger girls, who appear to be about six and four years old.  They wait with her every week while their brother runs track, picking dandelions, and walking up and down the grey weathered wood benches of the bleachers.  They seem to play well together.

Here's the thing.  (deep breath)

I know I probably live in a bubble, and it's a twisted bubble at that.  Maybe it's a bubble inside of a bubble.   But I honestly didn't know that in 2009, there were still children that routinely dressed like these two girls.  Or, to be more accurate, children that are dressed like these girls--because it just seems impossible that it is purely by their choice.  Or maybe it is.  What do I know?

Every week now, I have seen them.  Every week, their matching page boy haircuts are adorned with colored bows made of shiny ribbon, and each child is wearing a semi-starched cotton dress, the kind of dress I would not call a "playdress" by any stretch of the imagination, but the type of dress that I would expect to see a young child wear to a summer wedding.  On one occasion, the two were wearing the same dress, or I suppose I should say matching dresses, since okay, they weren't wearing the same dress (happy now?).  This week, one of the dresses even had a petticoat sort of poofy thing under the skirt.  No, I don't think there are shorts underneath.  Little white socks, nice shoes, perfect dresses, perfectly clean, phenomenally neat and unwrinkled, bows in hair.  Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes.  You get the idea.

They wait, and play patiently and relatively sedately, while their brother runs track.  

I feel sorry for them.

I know.  It's so none of my business.  Their mom (who seems very nice and far more neatly dressed than I) probably doesn't know there are 9 year old girls who only wear boys clothes, and probably finds that just about as mind-blowing.  I'm good with that.

Okay.  Your turn.  You know you have em.  Hand 'em over.

Thursday, May 21

The Death of Boundaries

I am sitting in Starbucks. Right this minute. (Iced soy chai, if you must know).

There is a woman sitting about 10 feet from me who has been on the phone for about an hour. It is difficult not to overhear, but I'm doing my best. I've avoided nearly all content.

But one thing is clear.

This is a therapist of some sort. Trust me.

And she is talking to a client about a very personal matter.

In Starbucks.

This is not what cell phones, pink or otherwise, are for.

Poor Patricia.

Closing the Barn Door Redux

So apparently, they're after craigslist. I'm sure you've heard about it on the radio. Or on the TV, if you're that sort. The latest word is that craigslist is fighting back. More power to 'em.

It's another damn example of what I wrote about quite a while back. Someone puts a bomb in their shoe, we take off our shoes. Someone has a liquid explosive, we can't take water on planes anymore. A terrorist parks his rental car in Terminal B at Logan, car trunks are individually checked going into Terminal B at Logan (but of course not at other lots). Kids shoot kids in school, we put in metal detectors. Kids deal drugs, we strip search students for two aspirin. Kids kill themselves, and we start a discussion of bullying and homophobia. And now, someone is killed as a result of an ad they placed on craigslist, and we demand that craigslist eliminate those sorts of ads.

As if there aren't other ways to carry explosives. As if there are not other weapons or other ways to get them into schools. As if kids can't hurt one another outside of schooltime (or maybe it doesn't matter then, as long as the school administration doesn't have liability?). As if these problems did not exist prior to reaching crisis proportions or outside of the current context.

As if there aren't countless other ways to meet someone, endless places, online and off, to advertise for erotic services, escort services, massage services, whatever you want to call it. As if this is in any way related to the bulletin board on which it was posted.

When people die of food poisoning, it's not the plate's fault.

We are so stupid in this country.

Wednesday, May 20

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

Some years ago, way back when W was the president (lower case p intentional), shortly after 9/11 (don't even get me started on that subject. I mean it.), there was a contest announced on NPR. Actually, I don't really remember if it was on NPR. But since it's almost all I listen to, I'm figuring. I also don't remember if it was a joke or not. I'm thinking now that it must have been, but my recollection is that it wasn't, which is just mind-blowing. Whatever it was, despite the fact that I never do these sorts of things, I entered.

The contest was for a motto for the then-newly-formed Department of Homeland Security, a title that I abhor, by the way. I'm still shaking my head years later that we have a branch of the government that uses the word "homeland" to refer to our country. Did any of these people ever read a history book? I'm quite certain that none of the people who thought this up are Jewish. Or maybe they know all about the allusions, and are just fascist wannabes (or worse). It still makes me bristle.

In any case, they were having a contest for the new agency's motto. You know, to engrave in stone over the entrance of the building in DC, to plaster on the literature (maybe on the back of the dig-a-hole-in-the-ground pamphlet that we're bound to see revived one of these days), to put on the official seal to be made into patches for the arm of the uniform of all those highly efficient security screeners at airports. Like this one at the entrance to the US Supreme Court, which reads "Equal Justice Under Law" (cough cough)

Or like this one, which reads "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds"

Okay, so it's not Washington D.C. And it's not even the USPS motto. But it's engraved and grand and motto-ish and all. You get the idea.

Just so you don't sit in nailbiting suspense, I'll tell you the winner. The Department of Homeland Security's motto is:Preserving Our Freedoms, Protecting America. Riveting.

Or... it might beVigilance. Service. Integrity. Depends who you ask. Also riveting

My idea was so much more to the point. I wrote in and suggested the following:

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

I still think it shoulda won. It's clear. It's to the point. It's honest. I don't know what's the matter with these people. Stodgy, all of 'em. Men.

It's okay. I'm over it. They're gonna listen to me one of these days.

As you might have imagined, there actually is a reason that this contest-that-was-never-really-a-contest entered my head on this day, catapulting me into sweet reminiscence about the role of fear in American culture. I bet you didn't imagine that the reason would involve a bathroom stall. Neither did I. But there it is.

Today, I was in the bathroom at the local Stop 'n Shop (just so you can make an accurate entry in your log of where I stop to go to the're welcome), which I've got to say is damn clean for a grocery store bathroom. Some of 'em are downright horrendous. And they are kind enough to have one of those fold-down diaper changing tables that I was very grateful to have back in the day. You know, the ones with the handy little slot for the custom tissue paper covers to protect the little butt from the grossness of the plastic surface--the slot that never, and I mean never, has anything in it. Have you ever seen one that has covers in there? Why do they keep making a slot?

Oops. Sorry. Veered off there. But while I'm off on this side road, has anyone else ever noticed that the sliding locks on many bathroom stall doors are made by a company called "Hiney Hiders" (and engraved as such)? Can you believe there's a company with that name?

Hey! Engravings! I am keeping with the theme!

Screeeeeeech! Okay. Back on track.

So there I was, glancing over at the diapering platform, and among all of its warnings and reminders (damn lawyers), I see the following graphic (and I mean graphic):

Stars and impact zone and everything. Don't you think that's just a little bit over the top? Wouldn't it be sufficient to have it say "Never Leave Baby Unattended"? Or "Falls can Occur: Never Leave Baby Unattended"? Or even just a picture of a baby teetering?

I ask you, what mother out there can tolerate, even for a second, the mental picture of a fall direct onto a tiled floor, much less one which involves the head as the first point of contact, without wincing? I know, that's the point. Scare 'em into being careful. Scare the HELL out of 'em into being careful. I don't even have a baby anymore, and the picture is still bothering me hours later.

I mean, if we're going to do this, maybe we should have similar signs on all other products. How about a little baby drawing like this that is colored blue on all items that might cause choking? How about a little baby drawing with a pool of blood underneath it attached to all bicycle car seats? You think I'm going over the edge here, taking a perfectly good warning to its ridiculous extreme. And I am, but isn't this all a little absurd?

Unfortunately, promoting parental anxiety (not all that different from fear, mind you) seems to be a theme. In browsing the app store for the Iphone in recent days, I find that the hot new apps are tools that you can use to monitor and record exactly how long and at exactly what time your baby nurses, how many peas she ate (because you are counting, aren't you?), her level of Vitamin D exposure (i.e. outside playtime), and endless other record-keeping options clearly designed by people who know a whole lot more about coding and software than they do about babies and parenting. One of them was even listed as one of the Top 10 Apps for Parents by Time Magazine in their recent article. Oy.

I've worked with babies, young children, and families for more than thirty years, and there has not been a moment when I have thought that scaring the hell out of them or sending their anxiety into the stratosphere was the way to ensure good parenting and child safety.

But hey, that's just me.

Tuesday, May 19

In a Moment

Sometimes, you hear all you need to hear.

As I left school after dropping my daughter off this morning, I casually hit the on button on my car radio, turning on NPR. It's usually a bad decision, checking in on the world, but I just can't help myself.

I came in mid-sentence. I didn't have any idea what the story was about. I turned it off at the end of the sentence, still not knowing. Enough had been said. I'd gotten what I came for.

This is what I heard:

"...a ban on all restraints and seclusion"

Amen. Whatever it means.

Monday, May 18

The Fine Points

Today's philosophical question brought to you courtesy of my nine-year-old daughter. Deep.

She was sitting on my bed this morning, messin' with her toes, pushing some toes down, leaving other ones sticking up. And then there it was:

"Is it a swear if you do it [give someone "the finger"] with your toes?"

Excellent question, my exception-for-every-rule kid.

I'm thinking she's gonna have plenty of her own "Hmm's" any minute now.

Sunday, May 17

Will Wonders Never Cease

We came. We weren't locked out. The equipment was all there. The piano was (strangely, expensively) moved. The right number of chairs were there. The receptionist was there. The facilities guy was there. We were there.

We sang. There were people in the audience. The lights worked. We sounded good. Our narrator rocked. The slide show worked. The place looked great. Volunteers showed up. People bought auction items. There was enough food and it was delicious. We cleaned up and got out by our cutoff time. We may have even possibly broken even.

What more can you ask for?

Let's not get into the rest, okay?

Saturday, May 16


My desires are simple.

The basic stuff. Food, water, clothing.

If I'm gonna get all ideal here, which I am, I'd also say that I want to live in a calm beautiful space where children can spend every free moment in the road and fields and everywhere outside and in one anothers' houses which they can easily do because there are children everywhere.

I want my home to be a place where friends come to hang out, because it's comfortable, just the right degree of messy so they aren't worried about glasses leaving water rings or where they feel like they could leave a bookmark in a book and come back and keep reading another day.

I want artists' and childrens' voices to be more prominent in our culture.

Oh. And I want the assumption of heterosexuality and traditional nuclear family structure to be erased--that's right, erased--from our culture. Heck, while I'm at it, let's just make it the whole world.

That's all. Really.

I want for every child, everywhere, to know that there are different kinds of families, and for there to be no confusion or emotional valence about any given structure over another.

I want, when a child says to his or her friends, "I have two moms", for it to be received as if they say "I went to the movies this weekend". You know, something pretty much anyone (in American culture, at least) can relate to, and to which they are likely to respond with a gently interested "Oh. What'd you see?", or something similarly innocuous.

I want an end to all angst felt by young people about whether their parents and friends will approve of their romantic interest in a person of the same sex, the opposite sex, a different socioeconomic status, a different race. I want it to be a non-issue.

I want an end to the use of the term"real parent(s)". In any form. For any reason.

I want there to be no "normal". I want people to screw up their faces, perplexed. "What is this word...."normal"? I'm sorry, I don't know what you're talking about". No expected way of being, leaving anything outside of that way aberrant.

I want there to be no more dispute about subjective truth. Which I guess involves wanting a radical transformation in those people who stridently believe that relative truth is nonsense and the systems that support them or who teach them that crap.

I want straight people and the children of straight people to have to come out. It's okay, it won't be hard after the end of assumption.

The End of Assumption. It's the New Apocalypse.

You heard it here first.

Friday, May 15

Going Going Gone

" are you feeling?" This seems to be the question on people's lips these days.

I'm pretty sharp on a good day, so I know they're not talking about the unrelenting and hideous rash on my arm which I've had for more than a week and which itches like the sun on the beach.
I'm also pretty sure they're not asking about the two concerts that I have to sing in this weekend, one of them two and half hours away, which is okay because I'm sure they'll go fine once I find my concert clothes and learn my music and get over my rage at the business side of this season. And I'm positive they're not talking about my spiritual well-being because, well, this is Boston.

In addition to being sharp, I am the worst liar you ever met. I used to try anyway, because that sort of thing comes in handy from time to time, but it fell flat enough times for me to wise up. It's a real bummer when they find out you aren't really royalty. Or that you don't really think that new haircut is so swell, you ate the last cookie, and you are in fact going to be in town this weekend, you just don't want to be with them. Better just to tell the truth.

So I've been doing just that.

Other than having no idea where I'm going to get the money for my rent and health insurance and cable and summer camp and chocolate and utilities and clothes and food and travel and life, with the wee bit of anxiety that such a predicament occasionally produces, I am just about as close to great as I have ever been.

Because after all, there's nothin' makes you feel better than being thrown a goodbye party and thanked for your contributions. Which does seem all the more likely to happen if there is actually an acknowledgement of your resignation. And maybe even a notice that you're leaving, so people stop wondering why you seem to have grown gradually fainter around the edges so that, wonder of wonders, they just don't seem to be able to see you any more.

Whoops. There's that bitterness creeping in. Sorry. I meant to leave that at the office.

Today was my last day working for one of Fortune Magazine's Best Places to Work, an honor that makes milk come out of my nose.

You know all of those things you've always said you'd do if you had time or freedom? You know all of those great ideas that you've had that you think might even provide a comfortable income if you ever had time to do them? You know all those people who tell you it can be done? (and all those people who tell you the opposite, well, we're not talking about them). You know the feeling that "I could be great if they would let [listen to, follow] me"? I hope you do.

Deep and Relevant Lesson for the Day: There is no letting. There is only being.

Hey, it only took me thirty years to figure that out. I'm ahead of the curve.

Hand me a sparkler. It's Independence Day.

Thursday, May 14

I See Little Green People

What you are about to read is true. None of the names have been changed to protect the innocent. I swear.

Some of you may remember the cookie drama. I'm taking it as a good sign that it's been two months between posts on this, let's just say "unique" organization. Although, in the spirit of full disclosure, I have to say that I have not been the primary parent interacting with said group. I must acknowledge the possibility that if I were, I might have a lot more to write about. Ignorance is bliss (in this case).

For more than forty years, I have been angry at my mother for not letting me join. I've always thought it was her meanness or some sort of lingering resentment from her years of involvement with my sisters or something that was bad in me, that I didn't "deserve" to belong. I was shipped off to 4H (no, I didn't live on farm, or even in the country, and no I never raised an animal that was sold for meat). The official story is that that was what I wanted. My recollection is that I wanted to join the little green people, but wasn't allowed. So I asked to join the other little green people, the ones that were a little more butch (I now realize), just to find something I would be allowed to join. It didn't really go that well. I didn't stay in that long, though I still remember the pledge like it was yesterday (I'm like that).

And now, today, I am realizing something. Maybe I was like this--you know, THIS--when I was a kid. In fact, I am quite sure that I was. If that is the case then maybe, just maybe, I would have found membership....hmm...let's just say "challenging". And maybe my mom knew that. More hmm. (No, I can't ask my mom. She says that she never told me I couldn't join. One more trauma under the bridge.)

Today, it's about fabric. And badges (I love badges). And popsicles. And the interaction thereof. But more than anything, it is about the startling dearth of information that unfortunately feeds my trauma-based theory (see above) about secret societies.

Because you know, I have a reputation to uphold. I can find anything. On the web, I mean. Friends, neighbors, countrymen (okay, not the last one) contact me all the time. There are moments when I even think of making a career of it, a subject that is on my mind a lot these days since tomorrow is my last official day of full-time employment. But I'm getting off the subject. Anyhow, people ask me to find them stuff.

"Could you find me this song? I know three words from the middle verse. It goes "I am the..." That's all I know"

"I had this kindergarten teacher forty years ago that I just loved, and I keep wondering if she's still alive...could you find out?"

"Why do they call it Kleenex, anyway?"

I don't know if I'm better at it, or people are just lazy. What I am is unbelievably persistent (yeah, you can call it stubborn if you want) and determined. When it comes to the web, and a google search result of 41,900 hits can benefit from a little tenacity (and a little monkey-mindedness, so I'm all set there, too) and ambition. I have become useful in this way.

Which leads me to my point.

How is it that in 20,000 hits, there is not one post, anywhere on the web (go ahead, prove me wrong, I'd love you for it) that explains how to wash a girl scout vest that has patches on it. Like this.
You know. Washing instructions. Temperature. Agitation (come to think of it, I know enough about agitation, so scratch that). Drying. Ironing. Colors.

Oh sure, the vest itself has a tag. I think that's required by law. But that was before it had patches on it.

I tried. I really did. At least twenty different configurations of search terms. Synonyms R Us.

I even gave up, which is just so unlike me, and switched to simply finding out if the colors on girl scout badges bleed. I figured if I knew that, I could figure out the rest for myself. I'm sharp in the laundry department.

Nothing. Many configurations of that too. See for yourself. Put in "girl scout badges color bleed". That ought to cover it, right? What do I get? How to make your own patches (like I have time for that when I'm spending hours just trying to find out how to wash the ones I have). The history of girl scouts (a little bit yawn inducing though this picture

made my day and made me want to ditch this computer stuff and go make jewelry), and, of course, the first aid instructions for what to do if you should have an actual bleeding girl scout on your hands. (Ice. Compression. Elevation. There ya go.)

I don't know. I just find it so difficult to believe that my child is the first in 97 years to spill something on her vest (or sash, same diff, but in our house, we don't do sashes so thank god for vests). In this case it was a popsicle--one that was brought for snack at weekly meeting!

At this point, I am befuddled. Bewildered. (and bewitched and bothered too, but don't get me singing, I'll never stop) So I did what any rational person would do. I emailed the troop co-leaders. And being such good leaders, each with a looooong history in girl scouts (not to mention electronically savvy), they both answered me right away. Separately. So get this.

One of them said: "I probably wouldn't toss the whole thing in the washing machine, because it might come out in a funny shape. Try Shout wipes or the Tide pen, or just washing that part in the sink. If the patches get wet, they'll stay on because they are sewn"

And the other one said: "It should actually be washable. Take the pins off before you do so though".

Great, eh? It also sounds suspiciously as if they have never washed their own vests nor been asked this question before. Eww? They also mentioned that she should not bring her vest on the camping trip this weekend (which I am supposed to be packing for right this minute), because they don't want them to get dirty. Har!

I admit it. I have questions. I am a human being. Cut me and I will bleed.

Now for god's sake, and in the name of dearly departed Juliette whoever she is, COULD SOMEBODY PLEASE TELL ME IF GIRL SCOUT BADGES BLEED?

In the end, I can see that I'm on my own, kids. I'll let you know how it goes. And I'll ping the damn blog all over the world, so that someone, somewhere, will actually get an answer when they ask a search engine about washing girl scout accoutrements. Sheesh.

But before I do that, I'm heading off to the studio. I've already got a decoder ring project going (don't ask), and I'm thinking that I now have a second one to work on. Busy busy busy.

See what you did, Mom?

Wednesday, May 13

Trash, Pride, Art

There seems to be a theme emerging. (famous last words if I ever heard them)

Yesterday, I talked about feeling so proud of my kid I could just burst. And I'll be damned if it didn't happen again.

So let me ask you a question. If your kid came to you, excitedly said "Mommy! I have a present for you!!" and stood there, hands behind her back (clearly holding the treasured object), eyes filled with absolutely-certain-that-you-are-gonna-love-this anticipation, what would you imagine that she held behind her back? Really. Stop and think about it. What would you hope was back there? A picture that she drew? A story? A cookie? A diamond? A perfect report card? A stiff drink?

Okay, got that image in your head? Think about it, and don't show your card to anyone else.

This is what my 9-year-old daughter gave to me (I mention her age only so that you know that this isn't one of those oh-how-cute or oh-how-sweet stories that automatically go along with anything a three year old brings you, like a piece of lint or a half-drunk bottle of spring water)

Yes, they are exactly what they look like. Smashed eyeglass frames, minus the temples. "I found them in the parking lot! I think they must have gotten run over lots and lots of times because they're so flat!"

Yes, I know this might not have been what you imagined she was holding behind her back, barely able to keep it hidden, her excitement so great. Me? I swell with pride. That's my girl.

She picked them up because they had been run over a lot of times. She picked them up because they reminded her of my late father's glasses (I agree, and what a great reason whether I agree or not). She picked them up because they were "cool". But more than anything, she picked them up because I have taught her that this is a great habit. (Public Service Announcement: Purell-lovers, time to stop reading now). She picked them up because she thought I would appreciate them and include them in some future artwork in some fashion. She was right.

On my birthday, a little over two years ago, she and I took a walk to my favorite restaurant for breakfast. It was the highlight of my day. I carried a plastic ziploc bag, as I usually do, so that the odds and ends found along the way would have safe place to rest until it was their turn to become part of something new. We call it treasure. We've always done this.

"Let's look for treasure!"
"Yeah! Let's!"

When she was a toddler, I would ask if she wanted to go for a walk--with me, with her babysitter. Her answer was often a resounding "No!"--not only because she was two, but also because she is a kid who likes to "stay close" and always has. "Will you bring me back some treasures?" And she's out the door.

On my birthday, it was a long medium-short walk to the restaurant, and a longer walk back, as we had to take a different route, becuase what if there is other stuff on the other streets?

Within the first five minutes, an elaborate story had begun. I had nothing to do with it. It was a story about a spacecraft from another planet that had landed in this neighborhood and had left some broken parts scattered around, and if we could find them all, they would give us vital clues to the identity and location of the visitors. So we looked. And we looked. And we found important clues, let me tell you, from infinitesimal slips of paper with words on them to pieces of circuit boards to metal washers. I can't tell you the story. Number one, it's classified. You know how that alien stuff is. Our government is crazy about that stuff. I don't want that kind of trouble. And Number two, it's our story. Mostly hers. And it might be true. Nobody knows for sure, do they?

With every treasure found, I feel as if I have succeeded. I have succeeded in conveying the art in every object, art that might not have existed had the item not been run over so many times. I have succeeded in communicating the potential for new life and creation out of the mundane, broken, and discarded. I have succeeded in representing the world as a place where a walk can become a grand adventure to a distant planet, where a bent penny can be the first line of a story yet to be written. I have succeeded in relaying that life is filled with magic.

When she gave me these smashed eyeglasses, she was thrilled. But I am quite certain she did not think I could (or would) use them to see. Hey, no one is right about everything.

Does it get any better than this?

Tuesday, May 12

If there's any left, I buy food and clothes

First of all, if you're one of those people with a House and Garden home that doesn't have loads of bookshelves (or alternatively, loads of books stacked up on the floor and any other available horizontal surface--that's okay too, maybe even better. I always look at those magazine photos and say “Where’s the books?”), then you can skip this one. I'm probably not talking to you. I'm talkin' to these folks:

"When I get a little money, I buy books. Then if there's any left, I buy food and clothes" -Erasmus

My kin.

So, kinfolk, as hard as it might be to hear it, I’m here to say: Take these few minutes today and…Lighten Up. Life is not all Thoreau or Austen or Dostoevsky. It’s not even all Alice Walker or Salman Rushdie or (I may be struck by lightning for saying this) J.K. Rowling. Or whoever. I'm here to say that you just might have some significant gaps in your collection, and you don’t even know it. Here's why.

You see all of those picture books up there on the shelf? Yes, the ones with the 1/4" bindings. I bet you'd think they belong (or used to belong) to my daughter. And I guess they kinda do. But really, they're mine.

It's sad how many people pooh-pooh picture books, imagining that they're "fluff" or that there is some kind of law that says that they're really only for little kids, and when that age or stage passes, they go, while we clearly understand the value of keeping and displaying phenomenal adult literature on our shelves (as a mark of being well read? because we really enjoyed the books?). I know of very few people who would spend even one minute in the children's section of the bookstore or the library, even though last time I checked they did not require that you be accompanied by a child to enter.

Now, I gotta admit, a lot of picture books--and kids books in general--are pretty awful. They talk down to children, they miss the whole point of being a child, they overlook the importance of art, they are overly saccharine, or they send messages to children that are questionable (how's that for euphemistic?). Too often, they are, in my view "training wheels" for various adult genres--in other words, they're not literature, they're marketing tools. Or, as has happened a lot recently, they are simply a marketing vehicle for a celebrity who is promoting his or her (usually her, for reasons we can all quickly figure out), cause (which is sometimes simply themselves). But sometimes, just sometimes, they're brilliant. That's what I'm talkin' about.

Fine, so I'm a picture book snob. I'll accept that.

It just feels important to be one voice that says that there are some incredibly wonderful, beautiful, moving books out there that just happen to be written for young children. And sometimes, when you read them, you realize that they aren't really just for young children, but are poetry as well as powerful allegory, the products of sublime and sophisticated imaginations.

When I find one of those books, I buy it for my collection. As you might suspect, today was one of those times. I brought it home, qualified my recommendation to my nine-year-old (who makes it clear that she does not want to be seen as a "little kid"), who quickly responded "No! I LOVE picture books!" A mother's pride knows no bounds.

This is the book. I mean, a book. I guess it's both.

It's terrific. It's about a little girl who says to her parents, at the book's outset, that she is aware that they live in a book, but she is perplexed. "What is our story?", she asks. Of course, a la Rashomon (what a great movie), all those around her, including the pets, have their ideas, all mysteriously featuring themselves as the central character. But the girl carefully weighs, even dives into, each of their versions, and finds, repeatedly, that it is not her story. I would tell you more, but you really should read it. Heck, you might even have to visit the children's section.

The best part is that I found this book--or depending on your belief system, it was placed in front of me--on this day when I made a decision to chart my own course and stepped firmly in that direction. On this day when I am finally beginning to sit down and write my own story, instead of being a participant in someone else's construction. I love coincidence, even as I'm not sure that I believe in it.

Are there picture books that you love? That you treasure with the same ferocity as your "favorite book"? What is it about the book that you love so much? Most importantly (to me) you hold them to the same standards as the "age-appropriate" books that you love? Why? Why not? I'd love to hear from any and all on this. Not just titles. Tell us a story.

I'm convinced that there are closet picture book lovers out there. And wherever they are, I want to meet them.

Fess up.