Friday, May 30, 2008

Goodbye to All That

Well, dear readers (I hope you're still lurking somewhere out there after this long and burdensome siege of constant posting), we're coming to the end of May.  I did in fact post most days, and it was a real exercise in discipline.  Now if I can only apply this discipline to my dissertation, I'll be all set.

As this month ends, so does Hedgehog's first grade.  She's out of school as of next Friday, and will be a rising second-grader.  Time rushes on, despite my ambivalence.

So I'll raise a glass (in this case a Dixie cup) to all the miles, the lost teeth, Pokemon cards, rainy afternoons, cherry blossoms, missing mittens, outgrown sneakers, clay wolves, math puzzles, chilly mornings, afterschool snacks, birthday parties, crushes, and library books of first grade!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mile Run

It's that time of the school year at my alma mater, aka Hedgie's school, aka Summerhill: Mile Run Month. Beginning in first grade, the students run a few times a week around the local park's track, earning special buttons for each mile they complete. When I was in lower school, we had Mile Run, but it was the Mile Run of the 1970s, before folks seemed to know much about cruelty-free phys ed. Seven laps to a mile, and we weren't allowed to stop running and walk or get a drink of water, or they would discount the laps we'd completed up to that point, and we'd have to start over again. So there were the hardass kids who earned four and five mile buttons with regularity, and then there was me--a worrywart, terrified of getting heat stroke, pacing myself to a fault, I was so proud the day I came home, against all odds, with a two mile button. I'm telling you, it was a death march. And the gym teachers were the guards looking on dispassionately.

Fast forward 33 years to May 2008. A kinder Summerhill, a Summerhill for the new millenium, where children can stop for water or walk as needed. The teachers encourage rather than penalize. Still, I can see the intensity of Mile Run even now. The kids wear their buttons every day to school and eye each other's insignia for signs of battle bravery and kill numbers. Hedgehog came home the first two days with one mile buttons, then twos, then threes, and finally, a four mile button. Impressed isn't the word for what I felt when I saw these.  I know we're not supposed to live our dreams through our children, and I'm not--I never dreamed of such things, it didn't seem part of who I was as a kid.  But it is who Hedgehog is, and once again, I marvel.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Fool's Errand

I spent the last two days, with a revolting head cold, running the car, my daughter, dog, and sissy upstate (five hour drive there and back). Why? To protect the dignity of certain dear mothers and step-dads, I can't be more specific than to say that someone forgot their license and registration and thus it had to be messengered up there. Again you might ask, why? The concise answer is that we're just not the sort of family to take risks of any sort, and that would include driving without a license in hand. Call us nerds, but there you have it.

My folks are usually quite responsible people. I on the other hand lose things. Major things. All the f!@#$ing time. Credit cards. Bank cards. Cell phones. Digital cameras. Car keys. House keys. Tuition statements. Cordless phones. Address books. Eyeglasses. Graduate school i.d. Zoo parking passes. Crochet hooks. Sarge's keys. Cash. Dog leashes. Borrowed earrings. Ech, I guess payback's a bitch.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Benny and Moses

Meet my great-grandpas.  If you look carefully, you can see their cigarette smoke curling in the background.  I think candid shots like this one were fairly rare for the era, and I'm so glad someone had the foresight to take this.  The taker was probably my grandfather, which is actually somewhat surprising.  He was a skilled legal photographer who, when doing the occasional portrait, which he did, liked his subjects to be highly controlled and posed.  Maybe he saw something at this luncheon that he wanted to preserve just as it was at that moment--the light? The camaraderie? The leavings of a really good meal? 

Friday, May 23, 2008

Thank You Note?

Oh, Hedgehog. Directly to the point.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Steampunk Skyline

As we've ascertained, I have a certain weakness for the, well, let's just resolve to call him the Byronic Hero for the sake of argument.  I also adore all themes of gloom,  the supernatural, the sunless and Stygian...when I looked at this picture, taken yesterday on a drive through the rainy city, I had a sudden revelation that maybe my aesthetic, as I myself,  was born here in NYC. These moody buildings, they're so tall, so menacing.  Just look at those birds, wheeling upwards as if they're afraid of something.  

And before I leave you with this rather bleak image, I must mention my new favorite book, "The Difference Engine," by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling.  It's now my secular bible.

Is Theodor Herzl the New Severus Snape?*

Look at that spooky, surly, maladjusted man.  An enormously significant historical figure whose private life, as I am not at all surprised to learn, was completely ravaged: an apparent mother-fixation and a failed marriage which produced three children and one grandchild, all of whom went mad and/or killed themselves.  But those hooded eyes, that beard.  He's just dead sexy, is what he is.

J.K. Rowling said "girls, stop going for the bad guy.  Go for a nice man in the first place."   This in response to fans professing their love for Snape and Draco Malfoy...what's a "nice man," anyway? And if he did exist, who could stand him and his intolerably cheerful and optimistic ways? 

There are problems with the bad boy beyond the obvious, however.  I've been fond of a number of them (and I mean in real life, not just in my overactive Potions-addled imagination).  And I can tell you that, to my chagrin, once you get to know them, you find most often that they're quite childish, and in the end, what could be less appealing than a petulant bad boy? Now when you meet that rare delight, one who's also mature and serious, well, that could be a fatal attraction...

So now that I've made the acquaintance of Mr. Herzl, which will be the object of my false affections? Two bad boys: one, a dead fictional character, the other a dead historical figure.  Both intense, brooding, and apparently morally conflicted (my favorite attribute), serious, and single-minded (always a challenge). Hmmm...

*...or, When a Post a Day Becomes Untenable...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


"New York Magazine" this week ran the results of a survey on the sex lives of New Yorkers. I always enjoy hearing what other people are getting up to and seeing how I compare. Most of what they reported wasn't very surprising: lots of people cheat; men think they have more sex per month than they really do, when you compare what they report with what their wives report; most men have been to a strip club. Eh, yawn.

But some of the findings gave me pause. For instance,

1. men reported having had way more sex partners than women (male average: 35, female average: 6). Is someone lying? Or are all the ladies Mary Sues and the gents cheap lotharios?

2. When asked "what constitutes cheating?" more people thought "online flirting" was cheating than thought "in person flirting" was cheating. Is that because online flirting is committed more purposefully--in writing? Does that make it somehow premeditated? In person flirting is just a casual everyday occurrence? And I wonder how they defined "online flirting." We all know what people get up to in the comment sections of blogs, so Lord knows what goes on in private emails. An affair of letters was once considered potentially fire behind the smoke. Somehow the internet doesn't seem as fraught, but then again, I could be totally wrong. Maybe I'm behind the times, haha.

3. 23% surveyed said that "fantasizing about sex with someone else" constitutes cheating. REALLY?!? I think that's a bunch of b.s. Let's go at it from a law perspective. To commit a crime, in general, you need all its elements: the mens rea (the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing) AND the actus reus (the actual guilty act). In this case, there's really no actus reus, is there. No. I was shocked to find that so many would consider that cheating...

and then, on a related note, what about non-consensual role-playing, like if you use abject flattery to trick your husband, who's really an amazing mimic, into talking to you in his best sexy sardonic Alan-Rickman-as-Snape voice, until he gives you a sudden sharp look of comprehension and then clams up, and won't talk to you for awhile even in his own voice? I mean, he cottoned on to you before any real damage was done right? That's not cheating, is it?

Monday, May 19, 2008


A Post a Day is quite a challenge.  And tonight I'm especially compromised, plagued with the anxiety that strikes sometimes without warning and can be debilitating.  Well, I've been anxious since I was a very little girl, and I'm used to it by now.  I don't enjoy it, though.

So I'm posting a quick one to boost my spirits, a picture I took recently of my favorite things--a big, cheery mug of coffee and the beginnings of a knitting project.  

Deep breath, exhale...

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Girl Talk

Hedgehog has a crush. In fact, she tells me, a whole group of her girlfriends are having crushes, passing them around from child to child like a bad head cold. They’ve been confiding in each other, and she in turn confided in me. “Mama,” she said wistfully. “You have no idea how strong my feelings for him are.”

Well, I did have some idea. After all, there were signs: the constant chatter peppered liberally with his name, the singing aloud to “Son of a Preacher Man” over and over in her room.

I know she is only seven, but it really seems to come from the heart. After all, Sarge and I are not the sort of parents who tease inappropriately, “oh, is he your boyfriend?” at the first mention of a boy. We both abhor the use of that sort of suggestiveness, and presumption, with children. So she didn’t get the idea from us.

I wonder, though, if it’s genetic or something. I’ve always been boy-crazy. My first crush was in first grade, too, a desperate, inchoate love for my teacher, Matt. He had curly black hair and a fulsome ‘stache (hey, it was the 70s). He was a fellow grad student of my mom’s at Columbia University, so I got to see him once in awhile in civilian life, and what a thrill that was. His only rivals for my affection, and they did run a close second and third, were Kirk and Spock. Since those tender years, it’s been a steady stream of crushes, boys (and an occasional girl), then men, one after the other, ending with Sarge. Luckily, that crush has lasted…

Anyway, I wasn’t surprised to hear about the crush. I told her about “girl talk,” how much girls and ladies like to be together and share things that are on their minds, and that you could have girl talk with your friends and also sometimes with your mama. She seemed to like that, and she said, “mama, sometimes I would like to tell you things.” I knew what she meant, and I was very glad to hear her say it. I’m learning already that it’s better sometimes not to prompt with questions, but I figure it won’t hurt to remind her once in awhile that the lines of “girl talk” are open if she wishes.

And by the way, that's a hairpiece--a Hannah Montana hairpiece. We discovered it on a shopping trip, and both honed in on its gleaming glory as if of one accord--Hedgehog begged for it (although she hastened to remind me that she "hates Hannah Montana"--good girl) and I decided one is never too early to discover the great joys of a "switch." She proceeded to wear it all over the North Country--running around in the woods, picking wildflowers, tripping and falling into the icy lake water...where else, after all, does one wear a switch?

Ah, girlhood.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Enchanted Lake House

In the Adirondacks, another season has begun for us.  It's so good to see the familiar trees and paths again

the stone chimney

the birch house overlooking our lake

and the old stone staircase that seems as if it grew out of the ground (you'll fall on your ass going down, but it's so worth it)

clouds over the water ("chiaroscuro" has become a cliche in our family)

Hedgehog, who wanted to "set something loose," launching her plastic boat with a dandelion for a figurehead

And my mom's house, an ongoing work-in-progress, an art project, all its many corners filled with odd tableaux, remnants of all the childhoods, and all the other houses and lives, geegaws and doodads precious and irrelevant, one still life or a hundred.  Hedgehog wandered in fascination through the rooms; a winter away made her forget the place, and she was amazed once again at the treasures everywhere

When the lid came off this hatbox, there was a faint breath of perfume stirring from the fancy feathers

Hedgehog played an impromptu.  "What do you think this piece is called, Mama?" "I couldn't guess." "Deer and elm!"

At the end of an afternoon, these swings are the best place to be

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Beloved Books

Hedgehog just asked me, "Mama, what's your favorite story?" "You mean favorite book?" I clarified. "Well, yes, I guess so," she said. But I like the way she put it. Favorite story. We discussed it together, and she absolutely couldn't come up with a single, or even five, favorites. Just couldn't narrow it down.

Here are my five, all pretension aside, the books that honestly mean the most to me in the world.  I can tell you, it wasn't easy:

1. "These Happy Golden Years" by Laura Ingalls Wilder

2. "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" by J.K. Rowling

3. "The Weather in the Streets" by Rosamond Lehmann

4. "Brideshead Revisited" by Evelyn Waugh

5. "We Have Always Lived in the Castle" by Shirley Jackson

Here are Sgt. Pepper's five:

1. "Lord of the Rings" trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkein

2. "Three Men in a Boat" by Jerome K. Jerome

3. "A Thurber Carnival" by James Thurber

4. "The Name of the Rose" by Umberto Eco

5. "Peter Simple" by Frederick Marryat

He insisted that Lord of the Rings is one book. And he would have included all of Patrick O'Brian, but I told him he would have to pick just one book from the series, and he refused on principle.

I think our book choices really tell something about who we are, me and the Sarge.  We both like fantasy and magic, the hopeful idea that there are other worlds beyond and around ours.  We both love a good love story (what's Lord of the Rings if not a love story? And "These Happy Golden Years" is I believe the most beautiful romance ever told).  Then our tastes diverge a bit--Sarge loves best laugh-out-loud funny, and I go for a gloomier sort of diversion...but now, we share a choice of favorite short story: "The Dead" by James Joyce.  However, we each have a completely different interpretation of it, and have argued at length about which is the correct reading...

Well, what are your favorite books?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

By the Way, This Child Made Them

Hedgehog has a small business making earrings, and today she set up a table at our block fair to exercise her entrepreneurial spirit. "Mama," she commented. "I think they'll sell better if people know a 7-year-old made them." If you click on the picture, you can see her advertising technique:

Yes, "this child made them".

She sold quite a few pairs, and then lost interest and wandered off with a ten-dollar-bill to explore the fair with her grandma. A few minutes later, she came racing back, bursting with news: "Mama! I found a remote control gorilla for only five dollars!"


Friday, May 9, 2008

Smother Love

Hedgehog had been looking forward all week to a Friday date with her friend (I'll call him Bunny).  She asked me specially to make her favorite treat, "Old-as-Pilgrims Molasses Cookies." I had visions of a cheerful, tidy house smelling cozily of baking ginger and cloves, and happy children playing a board game on the rug while the rain drummed on the skylight.  At 5 p.m. promptly, I would serve roast chicken, biscuits, and a fresh salad on our apple-patterned placemats to my hungry little charges.  

Here's how my day went, and this should tell you just what kind of a self-conscious, trying-too-hard mother I can be: After I dropped Hedgehog  off at school, I went in the rain to procure the ingredients I didn't have on hand.  I also chose some other snacks that would be fun but not too egregiously junk foody: popcorn and Orangina.  I went home, tidied my heart out, prepared the cookie dough (it has to chill for an hour).  Tidied some more, baked the cookies, seasoned the chicken and put it up to bake...I did do some reading for my dissertation in all this homemaking frenzy...

The cookies were very nice:

and the play-date was too. It was quite wholesome and sweet...until the dreaded video game fiasco...Bunny wanted to play a video game, so I asked whether his mother allowed this after school...he said she did...I told them they could, and so they my defense, only for the last 30 minutes of a three-hour it turned out, Bunny wasn't allowed, but for one day a week. Only on Sundays, apparently. OH, the guilt. The guilt. All my efforts at being the perfect mama with the coziest house, the most delightful snack, were ultimately for naught as my poor showing of in loco parentis was made manifest...the only thing noted and subsequently remembered would be this, this atrocity...

Okay, back it up,, I had a slight lapse in judgment there, but who cares.  After all, it was not my playdate.  I can have my own with my own friends.

I learned something today after getting so overwrought.  I need to back off and let Hedgehog have more space to lead her own life.  I know she's only 7, but I think it's never too early to back off with the smothering "love."  I am taking a solemn oath to do this to the very best of my ability.  So, I swear here before witnesses that I will try not to hover, smother, overwhelm with attention and ego investment, pepper with questions, live vicariously through, or otherwise try to usurp the individuality of my little girl.



I can't promise I won't bake those cookies, can't take everything away from me...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Shaolin Daughter

From my vantage point outside Hedgehog's martial arts class--she had a private lesson today, just by chance--a poorly-lit, clandestine photo.  She was beautiful in class today--her focus and form are impressive.  She's a graceful, tough little girl, so different from the child I was.  I guess that's the best thing about one's children--although they come from you, and learn from you, they're never exactly like you.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

This is what I see when I stand in front of our house and look up:

And here's our brick house; apparently, before the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway cut the nabe off from the water, it was located down by the docks, and went through several incarnations as a boarding house and a house of ill-repute (or so they say). It still has the peculiar little warreny rooms and our bedroom has the original tin ceiling.

I drove around Brooklyn doing errands, and ran into a horrendous traffic jam right here:

I panicked and booked, going the wrong way down a one-way street to escape the foul fumes and claustrophobia. Going a different route, I passed this off-duty lunch truck. "White & Hot"? Maybe there's actually a little disco in there:

And this guy, the angry gorilla who presides over a used-car lot. I'm not sure what the advertising concept is. Is he freaking out over the amazing deals? Or is it more like a threat--he'll chase you down if you pass up the amazing deals?

And the wonderful ruined bathhouse, haunted with the ghosts of nude old men:

And a 3rd Avenue mural:

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Thwarted Aspirations of a Would-Be Tupperware Lady

So I had a brainstorm this morning, as I blindly groped my way through the a.m. tasks. Despite how I sometimes try to tart up the truth, I'm pretty much a full-time housewife at this point. Unfortunately, my household doesn't always run as a household should run that's run by a full-time housewife. If you get what I'm saying. Take this morning, for instance. In my mind, I like to think I woke up a good half-hour before Hedgehog, laid out her clothes, made a pot of coffee and poured the juice and scrambled the eggs. Then greeted her, turning from the stove with a bright and cheery smile. The reality is always different. Wake up late? Check. Groggy? Check. Hungover even though I didn't drink? Yup. Stumbling around because I can't find my glasses and I'm blind as a bat without 'em? Mmhmm. Brownies and water for Hedgehog's breakfast? Well yes. Only shoes available are two left ones, one sneaker and one sandal? You betcha.

But as I stood (well, sagged) at the kitchen counter, waiting for the coffee to brew and resurrect me from the twilight sleep of undeath, I grabbed a cookbook at random off my shelf to peruse for dinner ideas. What did I grab? It just so happened to be my Tupperware Picnic Foods of the World cookbook...Tupperware, Tupperware...hmmm...a faint song could be heard in the dimmest recesses of my mind, I think it was "Too Much Too Young." No just kidding. But a light went on in there, and suddenly, just like that, I decided to become a Tupperware Lady. They still exist, you know. I checked it out. Yes, I was going to host a Tupperware party right in my own home, and from there, well, the sky would be the limit...somehow, Tupperware would make me a better housewife, I just knew it.  In the cranky morning over the sink full of dishes, brightly-colored plastic storage solutions seemed like the key to life, the universe, and everything...

As swiftly as my dream was born, it was murdered.  Murdered by Sgt. Pepper not half an hour ago, when he uttered the fateful word: "No."

Monday, May 5, 2008


A warm, bright morning in Gramercy Park, where I actually found a parking spot. Not a hydrant with my four-way flashers going, mind you, or even more luckily a meter, but a real live bona-fide NYC parking space, right across from the Park. So I walked a bit, enjoying the sun through the trees:

and peering into the famous locked park like the envious riff-raff I am to ogle the imprisoned tulips:

and taking an illicit photo of the greener grass in there, trodden upon only by the very lucky few key-holders:

The famous National Arts Club (what goes on in there, one wonders):

Mansard roofs:

And ivy-covered retreats:

Just a few blocks away, I heeded the warning:

and overheard these fine gents discussing their job histories-- "I used to do break-ins, tvs and stuff, I don't any more":

After I ran my errands, I headed home to our street like a Brooklyn bower:

And p.s. if anyone stops by with a ghost story, leave it as a comment on the May 4th post. I'd love to hear it!