Saturday, October 30, 2010

Shabbat Wisdom

Here's something to think about from this morning's Shabbat service:

If ritual is art, then it is stretched over the frame of habit.  Judith Shulevitz

John Stewart had a much bigger audience down on the Mall, but at Temple Micah our rabbi Danny lead us in prayers and the choir sang with enthusiasm.  There were no protest signs.  It was all very sane.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cultural Literacy

I realize that what I was getting at yesterday was something E.D. Hirsch talked about in his 1987 book “Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know.” I bought the book at the time, read enough to realize I was somewhat deficient and set the book on the shelf where it has remained unopened ever since.

Hirsch included in his book “The Thinking American’s List,” which takes up about 75 pages, single-spaced and in two columns. It ranges from nursery rhymes to authors to dates to geometry terms to sayings. You get the idea. His idea was that a complete education would expose children to all of these concepts.

I must say that I have been embarrassed more than once when people in other countries know more about US history than I do. They often seem to be more culturally literate than I am. Why is that?

Looking back at my childhood, I see a lot of dinners eaten as a family in front of the TV. Even if it was the news we were watching, we didn’t discuss much of anything. We never talked about literature because my parents didn’t read anything more than the newspaper.

I contrast this to my good friend’s household, where the 10 children sat around the very large dinner table with their parents and talked about books and ideas each night. I was almost afraid to eat with them for fear I would be asked to say something intelligent. This family helped start the early-morning French class I was able to attend in the 6th grade. To this day those children all know a lot about everything and have imparted much of that to the next generation.

In school I can remember only a couple of teachers who went out of their way to go beyond the textbooks and the standard curriculum. My 6th grade teacher introduced us to a variety of classical music, which we listened to for a few minutes each morning. My 8th grade teacher maintained a lending library of classics in the classroom. She also had us do monthly “research” of famous people born in that month, often memorizing famous lines if they were poets or writers. Other than that textbooks and library books were the main sources of my literacy.

I found this site as I was Googling “cultural literacy” last night. Be forewarned: Taking the tests becomes addictive. I was appalled to get scores in the 80’s in the first 3 I tried, all subjects I’m supposed to know something about. I can’t imagine how badly I would do on the history tests.

So we might ask Hirsch WHY every American needs to know any of these things? Such knowledge obviously does not make that person a better person. It doesn’t teach ethics. It doesn’t end war or famine.

It simply fills our minds with a richer mix of information that might make it easier to understand what’s going on in our country and in the broader world. It allows us to make mental connections when we hear a name or a place or a quote.

I wonder if “cultural literacy” is still being talked about by educators as we try to improve our standing in the world of education. No one mentioned it in “Waiting for Superman”, the current film about the sad state of education in our country.

Any thoughts on cultural literacy?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Basics

I just listened to this rather scary Yahoo interview with college students about some pretty basic US Government facts (forwarded to me from my husband who saw it on Twitter). Here are the questions they were asked:

Who is the Vice President?
Who is the Speaker of the House?
Who is the Majority Leader of the Senate?
How many Supreme Court justices are there currently?
Who is the Chief Justice?
How many Representatives are there in Congress?
How many Senators are there?

The kids being interviewed all looked like they came from fairly affluent families. They cheerfully laughed as they either guessed incorrectly or didn’t know enough to even guess. A few got some answers correct. It’s pretty frightening to think these are the people who may well be deciding upcoming elections. I wonder how many of them will even vote.

Here are the answers so you can check to make sure you got them all right:
Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, 9, John Roberts, 435, 100

If you didn’t, be assured you are undoubtedly in the majority!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cheerful Patience


That was the concept with which my yoga teacher opened last night’s class. I could understand the need for patience, but cheerful patience seemed to be asking a bit much.

I remembered back to when my children were much younger. There were those times especially before they could talk when I was pushed to my limit by behavior I couldn’t understand. I’m sure any patience I demonstrated was not cheerful.

The concept of being cheerfully patient with our minds is an interesting one. I struggle each time I meditate to find stillness and calm. Perhaps an attitude of cheerful patience would excuse me when it takes half the sit to settle in.

My yoga teacher talked about the patience necessary to accept that our minds and bodies can’t always immediately reproduce the poses we practice. It often takes many attempts. For some of us, it may never happen. She challenged us to patiently keep trying, allowing ourselves to laugh when we fall out of a pose and smile as we hold a pose for what seems like forever.

At the end of class, she suggested that we take cheerful patience off the mat, embracing the daily frustrations of life with a new attitude that infuses time and levity with the business of life. After all, most things are not really so urgent and a smile feels much better than a frown.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fun on Friday

I thought you might like a report on my spontaneous Friday afternoon. It turned out to be just the thing I needed to reaffirm how much fun companionship can be.

My late morning piano lesson included a wonderful mix of Mozart, Debussy, and Gershwin, all pieces that are hard enough to be a challenge but within my realm of possibility. I continue to learn subtleties from my teacher that make me fall in love with this music.

After my lesson we made a tuna sandwich and had Mallomars for dessert. I doubt I have have had one of those cookies in 50 years!

We had thought of going to a museum, but instead decided to hit her favorite Bethesda consignment shop, Gallery St. Elmo, a mom-and-pop place that could entertain for hours. She has an elegant house that is an incredible mix of priceless treasures and finds from places like this little shop.

What is so great about the place is that all the junk has been sent to Goodwill and what’s left are other people’s more interesting things of a lifetime. In the back room where we mostly hung out, most things ranged between $10 and $30.

We laughed at some things and wondered who would have ever used them and for what. Others just fell into my shopping basket as if they were meant to be there.

I ended up with 6 items, all of which I will definitely use:

Two ceramic pieces that match the new color on my living room fireplace wall
A lacquered box with an Egyptian motif that now graces my living room coffee table
A hand-painted Italian serving plate
An Armetale wine bottle holder
A small glass vase which will do well with tulips

I find myself wanting to know the history of each item -- where it was purchased, for whom, why it was no longer needed.  

It was such a perfect afternoon with someone I absolutely adore. You would never know there are almost 20 years between our ages. I’m looking forward to our next adventure.

Friday, October 22, 2010

In search of companions

I feel fairly safe in suggesting that women in general need companionship more than men do.  At least that’s true in my family.  
My husband is seemingly content with his life.  He has a daily routine that keeps him busy and entertained, most often without the need of another person.  He even enjoys watching movies by himself.  His only source of occasional depression is health-related.  We do things from time to time together and with other couples, but we end up with a lot of “alone” time.
I, on the other hand, find myself wishing for company in many of the things I do.  Why the difference?  I look back at my childhood with no siblings.  I did have friends growing up, but sometimes I felt ostracized because I was studious and cared a lot about good grades.  No one ever wanted my conservative parents as chaperones for “beach week” so I wasn’t invited.  I’m wondering now if I was always so busy so I wouldn’t have time to notice that friends were not always in the picture.
In college I joined a sorority, but my social life was somewhat limited by the fact that I worked part-time during my college years.  I had one serious boyfriend, but I ended up with mostly dateless weekends my senior year.
During my adult years, I can count several people who from time to time have been good friends, but I have always felt like somewhat of a loner.  Until the last few years, I just stayed busy and didn’t really let it bother me.
So what is it exactly that I want company doing?
Studying something (languages, photography, watercolors, knitting, voice, quilting, etc.)
Playing music (I have several good music buddies)
Volunteering at the homeless shelter (I did recruit Kristin and Jamy, but we read on different nights now)
Taking slow walks
Taking slow bike rides
Eating lunch out
Going to museums
Going to the gym
Talking and talking and talking
No one person will necessarily have the same list as mine.  So I guess I’m in search of multiple people who might want to enjoy some of these activities with me.  The age and gender of these people is not important in the least.  
How does one find such people?  Is it by chance?  Most people hanging out in bars or other public places are not looking for companionship.  Nor are those advertising on Craigslist.  
Tomorrow I’m spending the afternoon with someone who is pushing 80.  I know we have several common interests.  She is intrigued with spontaneity, so it will be interesting to see how the afternoon unfolds.  

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A New Beginning

A smart person recently told me how important it is that each partner in a couple continue to be an individual as well. Maybe that’s why when I thought this Blog was over, I felt like a piece of me had died, or at least gone blank.

When I started writing almost 6 years ago, I had no idea that I would write over 2,000 posts, putting out something most every day. No one told me that was a requirement; it just felt like the rhythm of brushing my teeth -- a good thing to do each day. But lately I noticed more posts of poems and recipes and less about me, the original object of my Blog. And why was that?

Over the years I had learned from experience things that caused some people I know quite well discomfort. Little by little, I abstained from using names and then relationships or even incidents. But then there was discomfort by association. The fact that friends and relatives were reading my Blog definitely was a factor.

My feeling was that most people reading would rather know I was a real person with definite flaws who experienced the range of emotions, including the more negative ones of sadness, depression, and anger -- probably much as they did. I simply couldn’t masquerade as some sort of Pollyanna whose world was always one of happily ever after.

I felt like I had no choice but to take a break and ponder all of this. It turned out to be a good thing to do. It helped me define a new beginning. It helped others see how important this part of my life is.

One thing I discovered is that my readers collectively provide an important form of companionship. Those who dare to comment are a vocal group with lots of opinions and experience. Those who don’t are supportive because they stop by regularly to read, showing their ongoing interest. Even though I could easily go read their posts and leave comments, it wasn’t the same.

I discovered the freedom of not viewing the world through Blog-colored glasses. I didn’t have to find a daily nugget to throw out there. I could see a movie or finish a book without reporting on it.

I waited for the suggestion of someone near and dear that I jump back in and share whatever pieces of my life story seemed important to me.

I will undoubtedly write less frequently. My every day rhythms will be reserved for things like teeth-brushing, taking my vitamins, and petting Jake.

Sitting down to write tonight felt like coming back from a trip. You know that excitement you feel as the plane lands and you imagine a warm welcome from someone waiting for you. I can only send you electronic hugs, but they are heart-felt I assure you.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Taking a Break

After almost 6 years and almost a post every day, I'm going to take a break from Blogging.  I will come around to read what the rest of you have to say, but I'll only post when I have something really worth sharing, which may be infrequently.  Thanks for reading and for your thoughtful comments.

A Happy Ending

I get nervous in caves, where I can’t see natural light in any direction.  I simply can’t imagine the terror I would experience if I were to be trapped half a mile underground as the 33 miners at Chile’s San Jose copper-gold mine were.  
I’ve just finished “Cry the Beloved Country”, which alludes to the horrible conditions for those working in the gold mines of South Africa.  For generations men have gone into West Virginia’s coal mines and ended up still poor with black lung disease.  Mining all over the world has always been a risky business which made those on top of the ground wealthy and broke the backs of those underneath.

Most times when we read news about a mine accident, we know in our heart of hearts that the miners are probably doomed, despite the valiant efforts to rescue them.  We feel the pain of the friends and relatives who continue to hope until that hope is extinguished.
But this time it was different.  From early on there was a 4”shaft to the trapped men, none of whom had suffered injury in the mine’s collapse.  Plan B was adopted as the rescue strategy with the intention of widening the shaft to 28” so a capsule could raise the men one at a time out of their home deep in the earth.  It was actually US companies who contributed greatly to the technology and management of the rescue operation.  But there was instant support from around the world as the drilling continued and the days ticked off.
Just yesterday the last miner rode up to the surface, completing the 69-day saga.  They described their re-entry into the world above ground as somewhat of a rebirth.
I had so many questions about how the men existed for those harrowing 2 months.  I wondered who organized them, whether they enforced a daily schedule, how they handled disagreements, how they maintained some semblance of physical conditioning,  whether and how they invoked religion, how they dealt with sexual urges, how they kept their minds in tact, and how they decided the order of their ultimate rescue.  
I’m sure there will be books and probably a movie telling the story, answering all my questions and more.  It is the success story that will keep hope alive for loved ones when the next mine shaft collapses.  Remember those 33 Chilean miners and how they all got out alive!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Styles of Combat

I have a new theory that our fighting styles are just as inherited as our eye color.  Maybe it’s environmental training, but I do think it’s passed down.

I’m not a person to fly off the hook easily.  I don’t yell and scream, but usually to the other person’s frustration I am very measured in my sparse remarks, carefully choosing my words and regretting not much of anything.  If I am the object of someone else’s wrath, I’m likely to just turn off my emotions and my communication, retreating into that dark self cave until I feel it’s safe to come out.  When I re-emerge, I must gradually warm back up to the other person, concentrating hard on the positive things that define our relationship.  I never forget what happened, but I manage to put it in storage.  As I write this, I realize it’s exactly the way my father dealt with anger.  It was maddening to me as a recipient.  And now I behave the same way – not often, but from time to time.

Would it have been better if I had been born to someone who yelled and screamed, but then got it out of his system and went on as if nothing had happened?  I don’t know and I’ll never be able to find out. 

What is your fighting style?  Was it inherited?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A new approach to soup making

How many times have you had soup that tastes like it was cooked to death?  You know, the pale mushy vegetables?  Last night I experimented with a different approach to soup that avoids all that.
The day before I had made the chicken stock much as I always have by cooking a whole chicken in a pot of water with a sliced onion and some pepper corns.  By last night I could easily skim the fat off the broth and take the chicken off the bones.
Quite apart from the broth, I sauteed in lemon olive oil a mix of vegetables -- garlic, ginger, eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, and sweet red pepper.  After 10 minutes or so, I added spinach, dill, cilantro, “silk road seasoning”, and a small amount of salt.  
As I heated the chicken stock and deboned chicken, I added some whole wheat linguine  to the pot.
Only when it was put into serving bowls was the vegetable mixture married with the chicken-stock-linguine.
The result was a tasty mix of flavorful vegetables that were cooked to perfection.  
The beauty of this approach to soup is the fact that the rest of the chicken-stock-linguine mixture can be combined with entirely different vegetables and seasonings.  It does require a little more attention in the preparation, but it’s well worth the extra 15 minutes of stir-frying.

Monday, October 11, 2010


Lately I've been thinking about the elastic quality of relationships of all kinds.  I'm always amazed at their ability to snap back after being stretched.

It's only natural for a relationship of any kind -- friendship, family, professional -- to come under stress from time to time.  When that happens, emotions get stretched and for a moment, the outcome may be uncertain.  Will this be the time the relationship gets stretched to the point of breaking, getting tossed into the rag bag like a pair of underwear that has lost its stretch?  Or will it gradually come around with words of apology, explanation; acts of contrition; or simply time?

I have come to realize it takes a while for me to recover from an upheaval in any relationship.  My snap-back ability may be diminishing with time.  But most often I eventually get there.

How about you?  How good is your elastic when it comes to relationships?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Gourmet Evening

Although I love to cook, running a restaurant would be about the last thing in the world I would ever choose to do.  I reaffirmed this last night as we spent about 4 hours dining in front of the open kitchen at the latest rendition of Galileo’s.
This restaurant of Roberto Donna’s has had several previous lives, starting in a small space on P Street 26 years ago.  The current reincarnation occupies space in what used to be the flagship Garfinckel’s store right near the White House.  I realized as I stepped across the threshold that my mother had walked in that same space many times as an employee of that department store in the wartime 40’s.
We are fortunate to know someone who is in the Don Rockwell group, thus entitling us to eat at the new Galileo’s at a greatly discounted price.  However, after all the mishaps of the evening, we might conclude we got exactly what we paid for or we might recognize that the restaurant has been open for a mere 5 days and be somewhat sympathetic.
We walked in the door or find we had no reservation on the book.  Yes, I do mean an old fashioned reservation book.  They have not introduced online reservations yet.  The hostess, who just happened to be Roberto Donna’s lovely wife, quickly seated us near the bar and handed each of us a glass of prosecco while they set a table for us in the vicinity of the one we thought we had reserved.  We wanted a view of the kitchen.
We were finally seated and handed the menu describing what would surely be a memorable meal.  Our special deal entitled us to 4 courses BEFORE dessert.  So I ordered:
Capesante:  Sauteed sea scallops atop yellow and black polenta, sauteed lobster mushrooms, cream sauce
Taglierini Neri All’Aragosta:  Black taglierini served in a lobster cream sauce and butter poached Maine lobster
Raviolini del Pfin:  Small “pinched” ravioli filled with three meats and served in veal jus, butter, sage
Filetto di Vitello:  Porcini powder dusted and sauteed Catelli veal filet medallions, roasted porcini mushrooms, braised cipollini, Taleggio cheese sauce and veal jus
There’s a happy rhythm to food service.  You never want to feel like you are being rushed through a meal so your table can be re-used for another seating.  On the other hand, it is nice when the food comes out of the kitchen without huge gaps in between courses.  Last night was the latter extreme.
The first course rolled out after about 45 minutes without a problem.  But then after a lengthy break, they attempted to serve us someone else’s food.  By this time there was a certain amount of unrest in the kitchen and occasional bursts of Italian.  It was clear the production line still needed some fine tuning.  Roberto Donna was in middle of things the entire time, but some of the others kitchen staff looked as though they hadn’t completely figured out their roles.
With the exception of being served the wrong ravioli (or so I thought), my food was all unquestionably delicious and beautifully presented.  My dining companions complained of their food being cold, but either mine wasn’t or it didn’t bother me.
We had several visits during the course of the evening from people in high places, apologizing for the inferior service.  In addition to feeding those of us in the main dining room, apparently there was a private party upstairs.  It was obvious that they simply hadn’t worked out a lot of the details yet.
My dessert -- a thin slice of chocolate torte with bits of rock salt on top -- was perhaps the highlight of the evening.  As we polished off the last bite of dessert and drained our espresso cups, we realized that we had been there for 4 hours.  You could call that a leisurely meal or an interminable evening.
I’m fairly sure Roberto Donna will make a go of this restaurant, located in the belly of the DC powerhouse.  The rich and famous will have lunch there and entrust their fancy cars to the valet service while they have dinner.  With a little time he will be turning out the same spectacular food with the proper restaurant rhythm.
Will I eat there again?  Maybe for a special occasion.  But probably never the 4-course menu because it is fairly pricy.  
It was a good reminder that I don’t belong in the food industry.  They are very brave to have an open kitchen where nothing is a secret, especially if you know Italian!

(The photo is from 1999, showing a much younger Roberta Donna, who is now 49.)

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Shabbat Wisdom

Our rabbi Esther opened today's service with this wonderful poem from Mary Oliver.  I especially like the last 5 lines.  The image of "the world offers itself to your imagination" is a powerful challenge!

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Jake's Decline

I slept badly and woke up in fear of Jake’s condition.  His back legs aren’t working so well any longer.
Last night I had noticed that he was having trouble jumping up on the new love seat, his current favorite spot.  He finally circled, tried several times, and then made it.  But after I went to bed I was suddenly wakened to my husband saying, “I think Jake’s in trouble.  He struggled to get up and barely made it up the stairs.”
I listened to him breathing on the floor at the foot of the bed and woke fully every time he stirred.  I worried what would happen if I couldn’t get him downstairs in the morning.
But morning finally came and with great difficulty, Jake made it to all four feet.  I searched for an old dog bed in the attic, probably purchased when departed Dylan was in a similar bad way.  And we slowly made our way downstairs for breakfast, both nursing stiff and sore right hips.
At first he could only get his front half on the dog bed, but now he seems to have gotten the hang of it.
I’m thinking of calling Dr. Smith, his vet, to see if there is some miracle medicine that might buy him some time.  Although he is fairly blind and deaf, he’s not ready to leave just yet and I’m certainly not willing to let him go.
I’ve already started to wonder if there will ever be another dog as good as Jake in my life.  He’s such a faithful companion and I can’t imagine life without him.  It is so hard for me to see him failing.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Art of Balance

How does balance work anyway?  Standing or kneeling on top of an inverted Bosu ball will tell you a lot.

The first time I tried this in PT, even holding onto Jennifer it was scary.  After a few minutes I got the sense of how to react when the ball started to tip.  I could even let go of my death grip for a moment or two.
Then she told me to close my eyes and it became instantly terrifying.  The lesson here is how much sight contributes to balance.  It was literally like being on a boat at sea.  I absolutely couldn’t let go of her shoulders.  At home some of the scariness disappeared as I did my daily exercises, using the elliptical to catch me when I started to topple.
This says that blind people must have some other coping mechanism that helps them stay upright (or balance on a Bosu ball) without their eyes to make the correction.  
And why do this exercise?  Jennifer says it’s to wipe out my motor memory of balance and recreate it in a way that will serve me better.  I’m actually fairly confident now with my eyes open.  But closing them still sends me into that sea of black chaos.  What a humbling experience.
She has proposed an experiment in which I will be hooked up to a neuro-feedback system to find out exactly how my brain processes this balance experience.  Only a PhD in PT would be so curious.  I’m game!  

Jake is my exercise buddy, but he hasn't attempted to balance on the Bosu ball just yet.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Food then and now

When I was growing up, my mother bought our meat and poultry at the A&P or the Piggly Wiggly, with little a thought other than getting the best bargain.  No one had heard of words like “organic” or “free-range” back then.  We were probably all ingesting DDT with no knowledge of what it might do to us.
My husband’s family actually had their meat and poultry delivered to their house.  His mother cooked the exact same menu every single week.  If it was Monday, they ate breaded veal cutlets;  Tuesday was lamb chops; etc.  The meat was all kosher, so there was no pork and only certain cuts of beef, lamb, and veal.
We had migrated to Whole Foods several years ago.  Then we read The Omnivore’s Dilemma and switched to Polyface for our meat, poultry, and eggs (when we can get them).  We have a choice of driving 150 miles to the farm to pick up our food or meeting up with the delivery man at one of several drop-off points in the metropolitan area on a monthly basis.
He comes in a huge blue and white vehicle loaded with coolers of frozen food and eggs.  You can check out what they offer on the Polyface website.  Today I arrived to find my food was in cooler “K”.  

The prices are comparable to those at Whole Foods, even including the small delivery fee.  The food consistently tests near zero for bacterial content.  And it’s all delicious.  I’m not sure why I should feel any better about eating an animal that was totally content while it was alive, but I do.
The eggs have been in short supply lately, probably because they have all been bought up by people like me who are addicted to them.  Here’s something from their website extolling the virtues of those little eggs with their perky yellows and non-runny whites:
Polyface eggs really are the best in the world! 
The below study from Mother Earth News compares Polyface Eggs with the USDA standard egg:
  • Polyface Farm vitamin E: 7.37 mg
    USDA vitamin E: 0.97 mg
  • Vitamin A: 763 IU
    USDA vitamin A: 487 IU
  • Beta carotene: 76.2 mcg
    USDA beta carotene: 10 mcg
  • Folate: 10200 mcg
    USDA folate: 47 mcg
  • Omega-3s: 0.71 g
    USDA omega-3s: 0.033g
  • Cholesterol: 292 mg
    USDA cholesterol: 423 mg
  • Saturated Fat: 2.31 g
    USDA saturated fat: 3.1 g
Would I be able to pick them out in a blind taste test?  Possibly not, but the knowledge of how much better they are for me makes me want to stock up before the 8-month delivery season ends.
Our freezer is full.  The CSA share this week was bountiful, including even a little basil plant to grow on our window sill.  We can be fat and happy (or at least well fed) for some time to come!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Just pictures

There is not much to say in between these two photos of things that make me happy as I putter around the kitchen.  It's a day of making dog food, going to PT, practicing the piano, and reading Cry the Beloved Country for our book club.  It's a compelling read that speaks of a time of great sadness and unrest in South Africa's history.

And I must think about my offer to give my PowerBook G4 to Margalen's family and use my iPad as my home computer.  I'm thinking this would be a low-cost solution that leaves everyone with plenty of computing power.  The bigger challenge will be left to my husband to teach people with a third-grade education in another country how to use their first computer.

Maybe an afternoon walk in the cooler Fall weather to see the beginnings of color on the trees.  And to check out the carpet of acorns.

Monday, October 04, 2010

The Myth of Spontaneity

I would like to think of myself as being spontaneous, ready to turn on a dime to meet up with a friend, take in a museum, paddle around the Tidal Basin.  But unfortunately I have too many things on my calendar (my week in blue above) to be able to pull this off very well.
That’s not to say I can’t easily be persuaded to change my plans.  I once had a friend who would call me up and say, “Why don’t you just blow off yoga today and come have dinner with me?”  And inevitably down dog was traded for a glass or two of sauvignon blanc and some gourmet food.
Just this past week I was bemoaning my lack of spontaneity to my piano teacher, who even in her late 70’s said most of her friends were either working or taking classes and were just never available.  Since then we have been trying (unsuccessfully so far) to find a time to do something social together.
I have concluded that to be truly spontaneous I would have to quit making plans ahead on my electronic calendar.  Instead I would get up each day, check the weather, perhaps read the newspaper, and then decide what and who should occupy my day.  Probably not very practical in this world we live in, where virtually everything gets scheduled before it happens.
Maybe in my next life I will learn the true meaning of spontaneity...

Sunday, October 03, 2010

The Price of E-venience

The New Yorker debuted its new iPad app this week, allowing anyone with an iPad to pay $5 per issue to receive the magazine online.  About the price of a latte at Starbucks.   This new way of doing business was ushered in by Jason Schwartzman in a hilarious video (forwarded to me by my husband who had received it on Twitter), which should have come with a warning NOT to attempt the watery feats at home with one's iPad.

For several years now we have been receiving the New Yorker in our mailbox each week, all for a cost of $47 a year.  That's less than $1 an issue and it costs Conde Nast the price of printing the magazine and mailing it to us.  So I can now pay $260 a year to get it electronically.  What's wrong with this picture?

My husband called up Conde Nast and asked if we could just trade in our paper subscription for an electronic subscription.  Seems like a win-win to me:  We get what we want and they no longer have to pay for printing or postage.  But instead of agreeing, they acted like this had never come up before and said they would relay his suggestion to someone else -- a typical delaying tactic.  They have yet to get back to him.

So why should this be an issue at all?  Probably because they stand to gain more money by simply charging $5 an issue for ALL e-copies of The New Yorker.  Plain and simple.  And the sad truth is that people who are now paying $5 a day for a latte and thinking nothing of it are more than willing to pay $5 a week in order to conveniently read their favorite magazine on their iPads while they sip their latte at Starbucks.

The jury is out as to whether we will continue our paper subscription, often looking for the latest issue, or bite the bullet and know it will be on our iPads each week and we can both be reading it at the same time.  The iPad choice would eliminate that nasty problem of magazines piling up and having to be somehow donated or recycled.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

In the beginning

Today we started at the very beginning of the Torah once again, reminding ourselves about creation and original sin.  Our rabbi Danny read this wonderful poem, with its interesting perspective of THE TREE at the end:

The Expulsion

Adam was happy -- now he had someone to blame
for everything: shipwrecks, Troy,
the gray face in the mirror.
Eve was happy -- now he would always need her.
She walked on boldly, swaying her beautiful hips.
The serpent admired his emerald coat, 
the Angel burst into flames
(he'd never approved of them, and he was right).
Even God was secretly pleased: Let
History begin!
The dog had no regrets, trotting by Adam's side
self-importantly, glad to be rid
of the lion, the toad, the basilisk, the white-footed mouse,
who were also happy and forgot their names immediately.
Only the Tree of Knowledge stood forlorn,
its small hard bitter crab apples
glinting high up, in a twilight of black leaves.
How pleasant it had been, how unexpected
to have been, however briefly,
the center of attention.
                        -- by Katha Pollitt
from The Mind-Body Problem (Random House, 2009)

Friday, October 01, 2010

Laptops and Learning

I confess to being somewhat skeptical of the educational value of a computer for a young child.  Entertainment, yes!  But as a real learning tool, I don’t know.
Personal computers hadn’t even been invented when I was growing up.  In fact, no school I attended through high school had a computer for my use or a computer curriculum.  We seemed to learn just fine, not even aware of what we might be missing.
Even my children, although they had access to computers in the early grades, never considered them to play an important role in their education.  Believe me, if the prevailing wisdom had been that computers were necessary for education, we would have had one early on because I live in a house where technology is on the cutting edge.  But instead our son used a computer to write starting in about the 4th grade and so it was just a glorified typewriter with a printer.
Which all leads me to ask why in the world Margalen needs a computer?  Her mother is so ecstatic with my Craigslist acquisition of the electronic piano that she has asked if my husband could help them purchase a computer for 4th grade Margalen to use.  I fear that she is a victim of the prevailing wisdom that computers make children smarter, just as taking a vitamin pill makes them healthier.
So, all you teachers out there -- Gary, Kellyann, Pauline, LR, there must be others -- tell me about the value of a home computer for a child’s education.  Tell me what software is worth purchasing.  I hate to see Angelina spend her hard-earned money (with probably matching funds from us) to buy something that provides amusement but not real education.
My husband was ready to bid on a refurbished Mac last night.  But I insist on knowing of its potential worth for a 9-year-old before we spend anybody’s money.  Besides I want Margalen to be practicing the piano in her spare time!