Wednesday, September 26, 2007

WFMW--Time Alone with Each Child

No real news flashes here, but something I need reminding about pretty often. Since I have two boys close together in age, the same things are usually pretty attractive to them. Train rides, athletic events or activities, toy stores...the usual. But each is his own little soul, and every once in a while they need one-on-one time with a parent. We need to get better about this but the dividends when we do it are awesome.

A few weeks ago, my husband woke our hard-sleeping older son at the crack of a Sunday dawn to head down to Bike Philly 2007, an event which closed some of the most scenic main streets in town to allow for some very family-friendly and amateur-oriented biking. The little guy (and the big one) were glowing all day from the special event, and both were proud that they said a cheery "Thank you!" to every police officer they saw (which was a lot!). "Some of the cars were really angry," my 3-year-old reported; "They said, 'BEEP! BEEP! BEEEEEEP!' But we were OK! And we said 'thank you!' to the police." How could it be any better than that? And Sunday, the Philadelphia Museum of Art had a great day for kids based on Picasso, so I took the littler guy and we went there. He loved the whole thing--the Picasso People puppet/dance show, the make-your-own-mask activity, and running around the Renaissance fountain in the European wing. We also did a lot of running down by the river and Waterworks on that beautiful day.

Each boy spends some time pining for the other parent (and the little guy for his big brother) but overall, they love the attention and the activity focused on them. It's hard to carve out the time or to get over the guilt of not taking both on an adventure but they do plenty together and need the one-on-one time. It sure it working for me! For other great ideas, go visit Shannon at Rocks in my Dryer.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

One Down!

If it's possible to be homesick for a job, I have a raging case of it. While I adore my two boys beyond all reason, I am still terribly missing my career of 14 years before they were born--college admissions. I loved the kids. I loved the parents. I loved the stage. I loved supporting, soothing, challenging, everything. I loved the counselors. I loved figuring out how to find the best kids to meet the needs of the university where I worked. I loved reading all those pages and pages of recommendations and essays. I loved the travel. I did not love the angry phone calls from those who weren't admitted; I especially did not love the devastated ones. But everything else, I loved.

So when I saw Daniel Golden's book, The Price of Admission, I was a moth to a flame. I knew what I would find within, but I had to read it. And I learned I had already read a lot of it, when it was published in a series of columns in the Wall Street Journal, but the compilation is a tour-de-force.

Daniel Golden is a Wall Street Journal reporter who was tipped off to the hidden impact of "legacy" admissions in highly selective colleges--that is, the preferential treatment that is often given to children or grandchildren of alumni of that institution. He wrote a series of columns on what he considers affirmative action for the rich and well-connected. It is fascinating and juicy, and if you know any of the people in the book, it's good for a giggle here and there. (For example, having known the person who is now dean of admissions at Duke since I was a student at another university where he worked, it is easy to imagine him jumping at the chance to go to Steven Speilberg's house to interview his stepdaughter. But hey, wouldn't you? How often do you get a reason to see a movie mogul's house?) He tracks the rise of Brown's prominence after JFK Jr attended. He gives lots of SAT scores of the uber-rich. There is lots of naming of names of both the famous (primarily Hollywood and Washington DC) and the not-famous and not-connected.

As a closet reader of People magazine and devotee of The Cooler blog, I loved some of the lurid gossip. But the phrase that really came to mind reading this book was "beating a dead horse." Over and over and over again, he interviewed kids who didn't get in to the ultra-selective schools they applied to, when less academically qualified classmates got in--and who, for the most part, had to "settle" for places like Johns Hopkins and Carnegie Mellon and NYU. Their subsequent successes were seen as further proof that they were denied the opportunity of a lifetime that they deserved.

As one of those evil participants in this undemocratic process, I agreed wholeheartedly with many of his criticisms. All of the admissions officers I knew hated to see the "development list" come across our desks, but many of our silent groans would turn to cheers when we saw a kid we loved was on it and we knew we had one more point in the favor of a kid whose application we adored. But Golden's fatal flaw is the reason my school created a firewall: it is always much easier to fight for a kid you know. He really got to know a lot of these kids who were unhappy that a well-connected but supposedly less qualified classmate was admitted to a place they thought they wanted to go.

My university and many others stopped interviewing applicants for exactly this reason. It is much easier to get attached to students you've met (or, more perilously, be bored to tears by them)and harder to divorce the personal feelings from what is in the application. And that was the second flaw: the author had absolutely no access to the application files of other similar applicants. And, I had an "inside" scoop very few other readers ever will: I had seen the files of some of these "victimized" kids. And his assumptions for why they were not admitted, at least at the places I worked, were completly false.

In the end, Golden holds up three paragons of admissions virtue: CalTech, Berea, and Cooper Union. All of these are amazing and admirable institutions. But they are also each narrowly focused places without broad appeal. I think he is being naive to suggest that part of the allure of Brown isn't the possibility of taking classes with Leelee Sobieski. And while he talks about how alumni giving probably wouldn't fall as much as most colleges fear if the legacy tip were removed, schools that have generations of students returning from families that know them have a very different feel, and one that is appealing to many students. The changes he calls for are too broad, and too based on the idea that the USNews list is "correct," and that the very smartest kids should be the ones who are going to certain colleges--Harvard, Yale, Princeton, particularly--and not the ones who are actually getting in. Which is ironic, as these are the very schools at which he is wagging fingers for lousy behavior over decades. But if they didn't matter, why would he care?

I'm probably too entrenched in the system to see this objectively. But having worked at four colleges/universities, there are differences beyond the academic offerings; there are distinct campus cultures, which is the joy and the peril of the American college system. In other parts of the world, post-secondary education is like an arranged marriage; you take this test, you score this amount, you go here. You score well on the math section, you go to the technology institute. It's not a bad system; and it certainly can be grafted on to ours (witness the Thai Scholars program, where interested top kids get sent to American schools matching their interests in exchange for a significant portion of their adult lives spent working for Thailand after school). Whether Daniel Golden likes it or not, Notre Dame has decided it is important to them to have a quarter of their class be returning generations of ND families. And Harvard continues to logroll in their own time, doting on their alumni--even Daniel Golden.

All those things said, what I loved about this book (other than a vicarious return to a professional world I adore) was how clearly it refutes any idea that there is a diminished standard for racial minorities. Any discussion of affirmative action programs has to include those for legacies and potential donors, and that did hold true in my experience almost everywhere I worked. Maybe because I have worked on campuses where hundreds of students benefit from one benefactor's child being admitted when they work out in the gym that benefactor built, or study in the library that benefactor donated, or learn from that professor the endowed chair brought, I am really more at ease with the tradeoff. But I've also been lucky to be at places where the percentages of such admits were such a small proportion of the class that it didn't really make a huge difference to the profile of the class.

Bottom line: Overall, a fun read, and a viewpoint I understand, but can't entirely support.

Ok, this was massive. I doubt the others will be this long. (I won't have time to read if I do this for each book!) But this clearly touched a nerve with me. Thanks for letting me prattle on. Next book about to finish: The Secret Life of Bees.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Meal Planning Monday

So here we are at Monday again. I did actually plan last week but it all fell to pieces (which happens sometimes) so just as well that I didn't post. Here's hoping this week goes a little closer to plan!

Monday: Tacos (leftover from tonight, so work is all done); thanks to my older son for the suggestion! Also with the corn/black bean/red onion salad and rice.
Tuesday: Rachael Ray's turkey shepherd's pie
Wednesday: Super Suppers chicken dish OR Super Suppers fish on the grill, depending on weather and when we all get home from work
Thursday: spaghetti and meatballs or sausage
Friday: football game! eat there.

Sides will include: green salad; radish & feta salad; something with the way cool colored carrots from the CSA box this week; eggplants on the grill; spaghetti squash; extra mashed potatoes from making shepherd's pie.

For many more (and far more inspired) Meal Plan Mondays, go visit here!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Who Knew Such a Joyous Thing Existed?

Thanks to BooMama for joining this so I can too!

Click here since I can't make the button work....

I think my reading challenge is going to be to get through all the books I've started, PLUS the ones for my book group. So, that gives me:

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Price of Admission by Daniel Golden

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen

Between Parent and Child by Dr. Haim Ginnot

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Excellence Without A Soul: How a Great University Forgot Education by Harry R. Lewis

My Life with the Saints by James Martin

Three Martini Playdate: A Practical Guide to Happy Parenting by Christie Mellor

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach

Can I do it by December? I don't know! But it is certainly worth a try. Anyone else want to play along?

You Would Think A Bunch of Professionals Would Have Better Things to Do with Their Time

But I'm glad they don't. In angst over their very-likely-to-be-oh-and-eight team, my husband and some friends came up with these haiku about Notre D football this year. Yes, haiku about a major college football team. There are some nerds there, really. And this is how they amuse each other. Note: these were written after the Penn State loss and before the Michigan loss, mostly. We'll have to see if 0-4 inspires any new grief-transformed to poetry.

Dusk falls on south quad
Frosh go for the mystery meat
We eat cereal

Beer flows like water
For smug young Republicans
We are ND

Touchdown Jesus
Greets a sea of green plaid pants
The team better win

Letters carved in stone
Spell “God, country, Notre Dame”
I smell Ethanol

Will publish haiku chapbook.
Sell nights at Food Sales.

M blue Irish out!
Autumn February skies.
Trojans score a hundy!

Shoo! Boy g(c)an come back!
Bitterness comes in dipthongs
Feb not only mean month

OH, and three. I care?
Hardly. Want all my money.
Degrees seem worthless.

True story haiku.

In a parking lot
Guy sees my decal. “Tough year.”

This year, unlike past
I’ll compete with my neighbors
For a leaf-free lawn.

Loser football players
deserve no special treats, just
girls in sweats always

Golden Domers cry
Not due to football; because
February sucks

Bitter South Bend cold
Screaming Otter blues

Archies draw, not write.
Other majors craft haikus.
C'mon architects!

JoePa threw the pick
That gave us the seven points.
So don’t kid yourself.

State didn’t learn much,
Said the papers on Monday,
Because we suck so hard.

Oh-and-two teams enter:
One team must win. Defining:
“I couldn’t care less.”

Back to the mines, kids!
The football team sucks this year.
Pick, shovel, light, canary.

The thick envelope
Held Saturday fantasies:
Goddamn Library.

Karmicly bad day
For our poor Father Jenkins.
Win for Ty. Our loss.

Buildings go up high
Mavens of industry rise
They fail to impress

Architects strangle
Our dreams that are immortal
Make them pay for ink

Each night I draw curves
To build a better next day
The sun shows my errors

Football weekend starts
As architects build to last
All souls go to heaven

Man, Rutgers alums
Are scoring points off me now.
Fire someone, dammit.

Oh and two go blue!
And gold, we sigh for glory
lost in media

Freshmen quarterbacks
a novel situation
I weep for lost youth

One nineteenth rank'd "O"
Rally sons of Notre Dame
Hold on to recruits

Old geeks cry in beer
At loss to describe team woes
Consoled by haiku

More beer bartender
And change to NBC please
Hey you're kind of cute

Poets' names hidden to protect from rabid alumni!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


BYOB usually stands for "Bring Your Own Bottle," usually meaning wine, to some chichi little place that either doesn't have or doesn't want a liquor license. While these are some of my husband's and my favorite places, that's not what this tip is about.
Remember Earth Day, back in April? I decided April was as good as January for making resolutions and resolved to bring my own bottles of water. I went to Target and got a plastic bottle with a spout; then I watched Oprah and learned that there was some controversy over whether #7 plastic leaches low levels of toxins in to whatever foods you put in them. I happened to be in the shopping center with our local natural foods store, which was just expanding, so I went in there and bought a stainless steel bottle instead. I also have a few other plastic "sport" bottles, but not many that fit in my car's cupholders, so I usually stick with the stainless steel bottle.
Now when my kids and I are going out, I just fill the water bottles from our tap before we go and we have clean, fresh water waiting for us, without cluttering up the car or the environment with more plastic trash. It's such an easy thing to do. I still have some bottled water around; after 9/11 and Y2K, I didn't go all paranoid, but I did decide that water was the one thing we should always have "extra" of in case of emergency, so I don't want to pretend I'll never buy bottled water again. But the stainless bottles in particular are great, and paying less and drinking more are working for me!
For other ideas, check out Shannon's blog, Rocks in my Dryer, every Wednesday!

Monday, September 17, 2007

MemeGRL Life Updates

1) I got a job! I am working 2 days a week at my alma mater, advising some of the honors students. Yes, anyone who knew me in college is aware of the rich, deep well of irony here. It's a temporary (I mean, interim) position, but that's just right for us for right now. Sadly, and also ironically, it means that our older son won't go to any of the preschools I've been fretting about all summer, but an in-home day care with his brother 2-3 days a week instead. I am regretful about this (though not the care situation, which is great), as I adored the new school option, and I fear the director will be too angry to let in the younger one when the time comes, and I won't really blame her. But I needed to go back to work for my own sanity. And so far it's working. When my email and voicemail get up and running this week, though, I might be singing a different tune on the "sanity" front. I have a LOT to learn.

2) Son 1 appears to be just about potty trained. He even has just about mastered "away games" (ie, potties outside the house, especially public ones). And, might I add, whoever invented those chairs that strap eager toddlers to the wall of the bathroom--Genius. Totally deserving of a MacArthur award, or some thing from Grateful Parents Everywhere that is an equivalent. They will share it with the person who creates the GPS map of every bathroom that has them so I can go patronize their stores and allow my kids to tinkle without fear.

3) The Phillies just swept the Mets AGAIN! Thank goodness, for between Notre Dame's calamitous (if unsurprising) loss and the Quaker Heartbreaker (who loses a football game 8-7 with just seconds to go??? How is that even mathematically possible?) it would have been a grim sports weekend here indeed without that. Watch this space for more haiku soon, with special guest poet hubby and friends, written before the ND-Michigan game. Oh, and mine too, on simplicity. But theirs are infinitely better and way, way, way funnier.

Friday, September 14, 2007

In Memory

One of the links on my site is to the Wilhoite Prayer Blog, also known as Living with Leukemia. Amy Wilhoite, a 25 year old mom of a less than 2 year old boy, was diagnosed with leukemia last year. She kept in touch with friends and family through her blog, and made new friends and family along the way. A devout Christian, she provided a window in to another way of spirituality and life for me.
On Monday, she lost the battle, one month after this beautiful picture was posted.
I'll be joining her family in prayer if not in person this weekend, remembering a life that touched so many others, including dozens that she never met in person. And I'll be hugging my boys a little tighter and saying yes to a few more things, in gratitude that I can.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

WFMW--80s Flashback

This seems so obvious I almost hate to list it. But like many "obvious" things, I never once thought of it until a friend suggested it.

Two of my son's friends from nursery school are fraternal twins. Their mother is very careful to only rarely put them in totally matching outfits, but when we go on playdates and it's not just the twins but the little one too, she is sure to put all of them in the same color shirt. This makes it easier to find them on the playground; once she remembers the "color of the day," it's easier to scan for that color and then the face rather than the other way around.

So why is this the '80s flashback? I was fortunate enough to be the recipient of almost an entire boys' wardrobe, from infant to size 5, when Son 1 was born. (Alas, when the donor cousin started wearing size 6, much to many peoples' surprise, a brother came along and the hand-me-overs stopped cold. Bummer, but understandable.) Not only was I lucky that the clothes arrived to begin with, but the cousins who provided them have excellent taste (by which I mean, our taste in clothes for the most part overlaps). Of course, their son apparently would wear overalls, which mine will not, but otherwise, it has been an amazing gift to us.

However, whoever bought these clothes was clearly very happy in the '80s (as was I). A shocking number of the pants (for a boys' wardrobe) are bright yellow (think construction hats) or fluorescent orange. I wouldn't usually pick these. But, when we are going somewhere crowded, they are my first choice. It makes them easy to find, and (G-d forbid) easy to describe if one gets away from me. It has saved me time and time again from needless worry, and has me putting the boys in different clothes than I or they might normally pick, allowing the wardrobe to expand a bit.

That's what works for me! For more (and probably more original!) ideas, go see Shannon's blog at Rocks in my Dryer.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Two (Not Entirely) Unrelated Items

Menu Planning Monday
Here we are at Monday again!
Monday: (leftover) grilled filets (on sale at Colonial Village), broccoli, radish salad, corn on the cob
Tuesday: slow cooker pork roast, roasted carrots, skillet potatoes (new recipe; I'll post if I like it)
Wednesday: pulled pork sandwiches (from the remains of the roast), quinoa pilaf, baked tomatoes or tomato/mozzarella salad
Thursday: spaghetti
Friday: freezer meal (either something from Dream Dinners, or Trader Joe's or Outback breaded chicken cutlets, whatever veggies came in the box, leftovers in general)

And, for those of you keeping track at home, this completes Son 1's first full week in underpants. Praise the Lord. Still having some, um, #2 issues (that would be potty #2, not son #2) but the transition is just about complete. Now let's see if going back to work completely backtracks him or not. Ugh. My timing is lousy.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

WFMW--Brand Loyal Edition

Shannon has a themed "Works for Me Wednesday" this week: brand loyalty. What do I drive out of my way for?

Scott single ply toilet paper. Because if we use anything else, our sewer line clogs and we have to get it dug out at a cost of $225. Charmin's darling but forget it.

Method Go Naked hand soap. No smell, no colors that leave stains on my sinktops when I'm too lazy to wipe them down right away.

Staying in the bathroom, Clinique facial soap and clarifying lotion. My father was allergic to perfume (among many, many other things) and so my mother and I had to search for unscented products in the stone ages of that genre. Now my nose is sensitive to scents on my face too, but except for a brief fling with Noxema, this is the only face soap I've ever truly loved.

Oh, and Biore nose strips. My mother used them...yeah, that's it...and they worked so well for her I thought I'd give 'em a try. Not that I get anything out with them, of course.

Pampers for my older son. The shape of his tushie blew out every other diaper we tried. Happily, my second son has no such issue and we buy what's on sale that we have coupons for. But the older one? Pampers or nothing. Ugh.

Balmex. The others don't come off my fingers or smell too strong.

From there to the laundry room...

Zout. Gets out stuff the other ones don't. Am phasing out everything else.

Dreft. Just smells like a baby to me.

And on to dinner...

Creamettes elbow noodles. Hands down the best noodles for anything--mac'n'cheese, macaroni salad, you name it.

Alessi White Balsamic Vinegar. Vinegar and oil is my salad dressing of choice. My mother, grandmother, and aunts all made their own vinegar--just a huge jug with a mother and whatever wine was leftover, they'd dump it in. I have had no success whatsoever with this technique and have had to shop around. This is my favorite so far. Sweeter, lighter, and added bonus of not staining nearly as much as regular balsamic vinegar.

Fit vegetable wash. Since we started with our CSA, cleaning veggies has been very important. This stuff works great. Peaches are a revelation after this. Couldn't believe how much dust got stuck in that fuzz until I started using this.

Cracker Barrel extra-sharp white cheese. I won't pretend we don't buy anything else but this is a perpetual winner.

Oscar Meyer Bacon. I just plain don't like any others. The lower-sodium is ok too, though calling it "low sodium" is frankly laughable.

And can you be loyal to a store brand? Acme's ice cream sandwiches are our family's absolute favorites. Nothing fancy or different, just right for a summer treat. And Whole Foods' 365 brand truffles are magnificent. I stock up when they come out.

It was so fun to see everyone else's favorite brands; look for them here at Rocks in my Dryer!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Something new

My friend over at But Wait, There's More! (the first blog I ever saw, by the way; mad props to S for being a way cool early adopter and mentor well past the time we worked together) allows her blog to serve as a source of creative writing as well, so I'm borrowing from her and starting with a haiku Tuesday, thanks to the women at One Deep Breath. This week's inspiration: Grandparents.

look, Grandfather, look!
I just found a pretzel jar!
can you open them?

Monday, September 3, 2007

Menu Planning Monday

Happy Labor Day!
Monday: hot dogs and sausages on the grill, radish and feta salad, potato salad
Tuesday: crock pot pork roast, broccoli, rice
Wednesday: steak on the grill (whatever cut is on sale at my butcher today), corn on the cob, tomato & mozzarella salad
Thursday: leftovers &/or spaghetti
Friday: Football game, baby! Go Panthers! (We'll get dinner there.)
best part of this: I have everything I need for the week except the meats (pork & steak), hot dog rolls and some lemons for dressings. Woo-hoo!

Radish & Feta Salad
Slice radishes thin. Add feta cheese, black olives (I use pitted kalamatas), and either mint or scallions. Toss in a lemony vinaigrette (I use the one from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything) at least a half hour before serving.