Saturday, December 29, 2007

new year's resolutions

My son had a great New Year's Resolution last year: To do something he'd never done before. (He's 5, so it wasn't too difficult to keep, but still...) I've decided that's a good one for the rest of us, too. I'm one of those people who makes tons of resolutions, and so, in no particular order:
To do something I've never done before
To give a public performance of some kind
To yell less
To be kind
To notice something cool about my kids every day
To finish this writing project I've been wanting to finish. Make that two writing projects. Make that three.
To send out more queries
To be better about rejections
To make more $
To spend less $
To worry less about $
To get a physical
To run with Alison
To forgive without being asked for forgiveness
To have a social life that does not revolve around 5-year-old birthday parties
To send out a book proposal
To be on time
To refrain from freaking out when I'm not on time
To cook more
To pre-plan at least two meals a week (gotta start somewhere)
To go back and listen to more Buffalo Springfield and Patti Smith
To check email less
To write more
To FINALLY learn barre chords

More when I think of them. Suggestions welcome.

Friday, December 21, 2007

dreidels and moles poetry friday

I KNOW Chanukah's over and it would have made sense to do this for poetry Friday a couple of weeks ago, but
1. since Christmas hype lasts for three months and
2. "day late, dollar short" is my M.O.
I'm doing it TODAY.

When I talked to my son's class about Chanukah, we made up new verses of the dreidel song. Why? Consider this oft-ignored, actual second verse:

It has a lovely body
With legs so short and thin
And when it is all tired
It drops and then I win.

Do dreidels have legs? I think not.
You can find alternate verses all over the net and I thought some new verses would be a great way to work with the kindergarteners on rhyming. My son's verse was:

I have a little dreidel
I made it out of slime
I put it on a tree
To see if it could climb!

On car trips, we do the same thing with the song "Mole in the Ground" by Bascom Lamar Lunsford. Each person takes turns coming up with a new verse.

I wish I was a grape on a vine
I wish I was a grape on a vine
Grape on a vine
In time I'd turn to wine
Oh I wish I was a grape on a vine. (Okay, that was mine and not from a 5-year-old. I wrote down the best ones they came up with from various trips, but who knows where that paper ended up. Maybe the glove compartment.)

More new verses (to either song) welcome here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

If I had 15 million dollars

One of my old favorite conversations used to be about how I'd spend my lottery winnings if I ever actually won, which could happen only if I ever actually played. My husband has always had the theory that the first thing he'd do would be to give $1 million to each of his friends so they'd have money, too, and wouldn't be jealous of us. (We always knew when he was on the outs with somebody because they wouldn't be named as beneficiaries of our imaginary largess...)

And so, in this feeling broke time a year, I've been thinking again about what I'd do with money if I had it in excess. One thing I'd like to do is buy presents for people when I see something appropriate. A swatch of ridiculously expensive fabric, for instance, for my fabric-loving friends. Japanese craft books. Today the Washington Post today mentioned some saplings that are descended from a tree that supposedly shaded Gen. Robert E. Lee in Hanover, Va.. They're selling them for $60 a piece to help preserve some battlefield. I'm not a Civil War buff (thus the expression "some battlefield.") But I have friends who are and I'd love to be able to just say: Look, I got you this tree!" (That led me to a great site, by the way: These trees aren't descended from specific historic trees, but they do introduce you to important trees in America's history, they sell varieties of those trees, and they also break them down into categories like: author, president, environment, etc. There's the Ray Charles Live Oak, for instance, or the Clara Barton Redbud. The list could be a lot more extensive. (I'd love to know what kind of tree is in Mick Jagger's front yard, for instance. At the very least, the site gives me a nicer association for Clara Barton. The Redbud is one of my favorite trees, and it's nice to think of Clara's name as being associated with something other than a rest stop along the New Jersey Turnpike.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


We've been reading the Frances Books by the Hobans again and I just had to throw out a quick encouragement to anyone with a kid between the ages of 2 and 7: YOU NEED THESE BOOKS. Russell Hoban has got the voice down so pat. From the way Frances spells (wrong) words, to the things she eats, to the responses from the parents. Bread and Jam for Frances, A Baby Sister for Frances and Best Friends for Frances are pretty much as perfect as they come. The Best Friends book is especially good for kids who are starting to break their friendships down along gender lines. (Girls can play baseball, too, Albert.) They're also good for kids who are learning that their siblings can be best friends, too.

giving and getting

As a parent, it can be tricky negotiating the holiday season. Part of me wants to spoil my kids rotten and give them everything they want, including the $75 Screamin' Serpent Roller Coaster (which, thank goodness, we found at a yard sale for $15.) Part of me wants to just go all Little House on the Prairie on them, and offer up an orange and a pair of mittens and maybe some molasses candy. I'll expect nothing but joy and thanks, of course.

I probably end up do more spoiling (sorry Pa) but I try to temper it some. One thing we do is divide the eight nights of Chanukah into different categories.
There's pajama night, for instance, where each kid gets pjs, which they need anyway. There's music night, where they get something music related. There's giving night, where we do something for other people outside of our family. There's Make-It night, where you have to make something for each other. And then there's Sock Night.

When I was growing up, we didn't have the money to be spoiled rotten. On Chanukah, friends thought I was lucky because I got eight presents. What they didn't know was that in my family and almost every other Jewish family that I knew, seven of those presents ended up being pairs of socks. (Well, mittens, too, but the socks really stand out.) As we grew older, it became a family joke. We still exchange socks, the flashier the better. But the first year my son opened up a pair of socks from his grandmother, he wasn't that psyched. Then I got smart and instituted Sock Night where that's all they get. My so knows exactly to expect. No looking at the package and imagining a rocket ship, only to find a pair of socks. This year I let him pick which night was which. He chose Sock Night as night no. 2. I don't know if he did that because he wanted Sock Night or because he just wanted to get it over with. Either way, he doesn't complain about anymore.

Last year at our preschool we started a sock drive for the homeless (working slogan: This year, EVERYBODY gets socks for Chanukah.) The preschool came through again this year, and on Monday we dropped 200 pairs of socks off at the Arlington-Alexandria Homeless Coalition. My daughter came with me to do the drop off. Here's hoping something sinks in.

I'm enclosing a picture of the puppet I made for Make-It Night.
My friend Annie does some craft blogging (though she's recently switched to book blogging with her kids.) Still, she inspired me to throw some crafting stuff here, too, as that's what I'd be doing with my spare time IF I HAD ANY SPARE TIME. Which I don't. Aside from the time I spend writing this stuff. Ahem. Anyway, did I mention that our family has a slight Muppet infatuation??? I think Jim Henson did some of his best work with pingpong balls.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

drug money

My late-night Sap Fest has turned into an informal study of commercials for new prescription medicines. Apparently, people who favor holiday shlock also

1. have osteoporosis
2. can't sleep
3. have or are married to someone with E.D.

The lists of side effects on these commercials go on and on -- every one seems like a Saturday Night Live skit. "May cause eating problems, aches, pain, bleeding, bumps, mood swings, certain types of cancer." I mean, these are LOADED WORDS HERE, and there's no statistical data, nothing saying that the cancer is found in 1 out of 2,000 laboratory rats, for instance. Nothing even saying that the cancer is treatable. In some cases, the list of side effects lasts longer than the list of benefits the drug can provide. So what does that say about our listening habits? Do we gloss over the word "cancer" and just focus on the word "sleep"? Are the images so overpowering that all we take away is a beautiful, well-rested woman and the name of the drug? They have to be, or the companies wouldn't bother with television; they'd stick to other mediums where the fine print is really fine. (On TV, fine print is spoken, though in a comforting, hypnotic monotone.) There are lots of studies on this stuff available on the web,though though none of them has the exact answer I'm looking for. I'll shout when I've got it. You may now return to your regularly scheduled programming.

Friday, December 7, 2007

holiday movies ii

If there is a recipe for holiday movies, Steve Guttenberg is the equivalent of way, way too much sugar. I will not be watching "Single Santa" again next year. John Denver - yes. Steve - no.

Thursday, December 6, 2007


One of my favorite Hanukkah gifts when I was a kid was a doll named Chrissy. You pulled her hair and it grew. I loved that doll. I used to pull her around by the hair, dragging her wherever I went. This week we gave my daughter a mermaid with long, pink hair. It doesn't grow, but every time my daughter walks into the room, her little fist around that pink hair, the doll dangling below, fishlike, I have a flashback.


My in-laws gave us a new shovel this year known as The Wovel. It's supposed to be a big innovation in snow shoveling -- safe, won't harm your back, etc. I think it had been a gift to my father-in-law, who didn't want to put it together (it took awhile). My husband accepted said shovel after reading a rave review about it in the New York Times.

Our own review, after one snow:
Looks totally dorky (apologies for the 80s speak)
Moves a lot of snow without much effort
Doesn't get that thin bottom layer off the driveway, so you have to go back over it
(Just in case you wondered about snow shovel innovations)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

holiday movies, first snow

The fact that I don't celebrate Christmas doesn't keep me from enjoying Christmas movies -- the sappier the better. Does it star John Denver as an architect trying to find a new life for his daughter and his bad, widowed self? Does it star Dolly Parton as a platinum snow white with a bunch of orphans? Tori Spelling as self-absorbed TV star visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future? With William Shatner? And Gary Coleman? I am SO THERE. And even though I know they're bad (really bad) I cry every darn time.

Some better holiday movies:
The Bishop's Wife (the original -- with Loretta, not Whitney)
Elf (I might even let my kids watch it this year. Extra points because the grumpy dad is in children's publishing)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the original -- Jim Carrey isn't fit to wipe Dr. Seuss's shoes)
Groundhog Day (It's not Christmas but ever since Rushmore I can watch Bill Murray in anything)
PeeWee's Christmas Special (extra points because the dinosaur family celebrates Chanukah)

Today was the first snow of the season. It was white and fluffy and beautiful and made me forget -- just for a bit -- about the threat of global warming.

We always make it a point to go out and play as soon as the snow's deep enough, even if it's dark, so that if it melts in the morning we won't hate ourselves. We were out there until 9.

1 successful snowball fight (no one got hurt)
1 shoveled driveway (more on that later or tomorrow)
1 ride on a sled (okay, it was a boogie board, but it worked)
3 bowls of snowcream (add a half a teaspoon of vanilla and a few teaspoons of sugar to milk. Stir into fresh snow. )

Friday, November 30, 2007

evel knievel poetry friday

My RIP Icon series continues...

Evel Knievel died on Friday. He wasn't jumping over a row of motorcycles. He wasn't jumping over a fountain or a bunch of cars or rattlesnakes or mountain lions. After years of making America's heart skip an extra beat, his own heart stopped. He was part Starsky and part Hutch. Part Bo and part Luke. Perhaps most importantly, if not for him, there never would have been a Fonz.

When I was little, I heard Evel Knievel had broken every bone in his body except for his pinky. Even today, I didn't look it up on Wikipedia because I wanted it to be true. The really weird thing about thinking back on Evel Knievel and all of his stunts is how innocent they seem, by today's over-the-top standards.

And so, on poetry Friday:

Snake River Canyon
A necessary Evel
Ma! I want a bike!

Okay, not my best tribute, perhaps. But heart felt.

Here's a link to Evel Knievel jumping over 11 Mack Trucks. Man, I love youtube.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Neil Young's Blog

Lord knows I don't mean to be grumpy, especially on a weekend, but I just spent the most money I have ever spent on a concert ticket to see Neil Young and the show was "pretty good." A show can be pretty good for $16. A show can be pretty good for $30. But when you start charging more than $50 for the bad seats (and way more for the good ones) the show cannot be pretty good. It needs to be amazing.

Because of the price, my husband and I initially passed on tickets to Thursday's show figuring we would buy, say, a bicycle instead. But then Neil added a second date at DAR Constitution Hall. It was near my husband's birthday. It was near my birthday. One ticket for each birthday. We could almost justify that. Almost.

Pegi Young, Neil's wife, opened. I just want to say that:

1. I myself cannot carry a tune in a bucket and my guitar playing is only pedestrian. But when I asked my husband if he would let me open for him if he were performing on stage, he said "yes." Hmmm.

2. The sitar is a wonderful instrument. It has a unique sound. But putting it on Pegi's country song was a little like when my son decided to make a pie out of whipped cream and mayonnaise.

Neil started out with an acoustic set as he did when we saw him the last time (in Boston, a much better show and a much better price). But aside from "Cowgirl in the Sand," his song choices were a little off. Tempo didn't vary much. And his newer stuff sounded as if he was keeping some sort of stream-of-consciousness blog and one day he went looking through that blog and said, "I suppose these could be song lyrics." The organ on "A Man Needs a Maid," regardless of what The Washington Post said in its warmer and fuzzier review, seemed almost as out of place as the sitar. Some of the set was poignant, sure. Some of the blog-lyrics were even poignant. And Neil Young's voice is as reedy and beautiful as ever. His guitar playing, too. I still heart Neil Young! But last night the whole package just wasn't there and the pacing was off. The electric set was much better, particularly the lengthy, hypnotic jam on No Hidden Path, so at least we could leave on a high note.

I have a friend whose son is going to private school. She's not so happy with the school. I think the fact that she's paying $10,000 a year is making it worse. We'll call it The Neil Young Ticket Price analogy.

Some other notes:
Hair color of crowd: gray.
Behavior of crowd: stupid. I hate that people feel they have to have some sort of dialogue with the singer. It's one thing when you shout out requests from a musician who will take them. But it's another when Neil Young opens his mouth and actually says something, and then the crowd feels they have to respond with "NEIL. HEY NEIL. NEIL YOUNG." Note to guy who kept yelling that: DUDE, HE KNOWS HIS NAME.
A typo: As part of the set, a man stood on stage painting pictures and putting them up on an easel, announcing the next song. He had one painting that said "Bad Fog of Lonliness." IS IT WRONG, WHEN YOU PAY TOO MUCH FOR A CONCERT TICKET, TO EXPECT LONELINESS TO BE SPELLED CORRECTLY?
Best dancer: either the guy in the tux or the ponytailed dude whose repeat arm gestures during the final mega-jam invoked the drum scene in Freaks and Geeks. If I'd had a video camera, the number of you-tube hits would have rivaled tron guy.
Best merch; Would have to be the $70 Neil Young apron. $70? Good lord. That's almost the price of a concert ticket.
Best perk: My mother-in-law babysat!
New thing that you wouldn't know if you haven't attended a big concert in a while: Instead of holding up lighters now, people hold up their cell phones.
What that says about American culture: Nothing very good.

The setlist, courtesy of
From Hank To Hendrix
Ambulance Blues
Sad Movies
A Man Needs A Maid
No One Seems To Know
After The Gold Rush
Mellow My Mind
Love Art Blues
Cowgirl In The Sand
The Loner
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Dirty Old Man
Spirit Road
Bad Fog Of Loneliness
Oh, Lonesome Me
The Believer
No Hidden Path
Cinnamon Girl
Tonight's The Night
The Sultan

Thursday, November 15, 2007

poetry friday

A poem from my 5-year-old, written last year:

I love cats
in their hats
I love birds
swirling birds
I love bats
with running cats
I love turtles
Riding with Yertles
I love skunks
On big humps
I love twisters
Swirling with blisters
I love bumps
Near skunks.


So my son can't take medicine without gagging. He hates the taste. He hates the smell. When he woke up with a headache this week, I asked him if he wanted to take a caplet to make him feel better.

"You mean Motrin-easy-to-swallow caplets?" he asked between sniffles and tears. Now that's some scary marketing.

One last note from the parenting front: Sometimes it takes less time to hunt through the dirty dishes, find the blue plate and wash it than it takes to serve the eggs on the already washed green one.

puppy grows

We got an early start on the holiday season when we visited my dad in Columbia, S.C. and he bestowed upon my children their Chanukah presents. My daughter received a toy known as "Puppy Grows and Knows Your Name."

Where to begin?

Let's start with the name. Because they want children to be able to name their own puppies from one of their computer generated lists, they can't call it Rover or or Sir Wags or Guinevere or whatever else you'd name an animatronic poodle. Okay, I accept that. Allow at least a little room for a child's creativity. But how about something like My Little Puppy? My Furry Friend? Something a little more innovative than Puppy Grows and Knows Your Name? As is, it's setting a new precedent for toy naming. For instance: Globe on End of String that Goes to Floor and Comes Back Up Again. Small Human-Like Figures That Fit in Small House. Would the Frisbee have been as successful if we'd just called it a Flying Disc?

Which brings us to the next question: Do we want this product to be successful? My daughter's Puppy Grows and Knows Your Name has not yet been programmed because we want her to be able to share with her brother. I'm not sure Puppy Grows and Knows Your Name is able to serve multiple masters, which is bad news given that it costs anywhere from $40 to $75.

Then there's the voice, a woman's voice that says things like "You'll always be my special friend." Think Phyllis Diller working a 1-900-line.

My daughter, who has named her Puppy Grows and Knows Your Name "Pokey," loves this creature. We do not. She loves to feed her (bones, for which the dog responds with a great rhythmic slurping noise, followed by a burp.) We do not. She loves to measure her, to see how much she's grown. Puppy Grows and Knows Your Name can become a dog in a week. Fortunately, there's a reset switch, because little girls like the puppy stage best.

That's my rant for today. I'll let you know when Puppy Grows and Knows Your Name breaks. Or when my husband causes her to meet with an unfortunate accident.

more music

In the Hey, Ma, Get a Life Department, I've actually seen more music in the past two months than I have in the past couple of years combined.

Nov. 8: Tinariwen at Lisner Auditorium. Incredible percussion and smoking electric guitars. They wear their native Bedouin clothing, which makes them look as if they should be standing in front of camels instead of amplifiers. Make no mistake, though: this group is what brings the real heat to the desert.

Nov. 14. The Gourds at State Theater in Falls Church. This is the second time I've seen The Gourds this year, but no matter; the band requires repeated viewing. One night with them is like seeing five bands perform. So many influences merge here, and the result is always good. Plus, they look like they're having a great time: Kevin Russell, whose voice reminds you that the devil was an angel once, too; Jimmy Smith, the rocker with his vices on display and whose name sound generic but who is as unique as they come; Max Johnston (formerly of Uncle Tupelo where he was equally good, but never looked quite as happy) with his many instruments, Claude Bernard with his accordion (and many instruments) and drummer Keith Langsford, steady with a flare. I heart The Gourds! Watched the first half of the show from the floor in front of the stage, surrounded by big hairy men. Watched the last part from a barstool where my husband and I watched over a beer for a guy who said he would be right back. We saw him wandering around the room later in the evening, looking for something, but he was too far away to hear us call. Then the band kicked into "Lower 48" and he forgot what he was looking for.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

poetry friday

You might be asking, if you ask yourself such things: What is Poetry Friday? And isn't it Thursday?
And I might be answering, if I answer such things:
Poetry Friday is a day set aside for blogging about poetry -- by kids, for kids, for grownups, for geese -- from the people who blog about that sort of stuff anyway (and from the people who blog about that sort of stuff as it relates to kids lit in particular.) I blog about that sort of stuff only sometimes. In fact, I blog only sometimes, which is why I'm writing this on a Thursday. Who knows where I'll be tomorrow?

Today's poem is by my 3-year-old gal, who has recently been learning about rhyming. She meant it to be a song lyric:

I fly high
up in the sky
I bumped my head
and I didn't cry

Monday, November 5, 2007

a very late post about del

The Del McCoury band continues to be my favorite -- not just in bluegrass, but anywhere. I love listening to these guys (even their new kids' CD, Little Mo' McCoury, rules, despite a few missteps). But the live experience is something extra special, something that you need to remind yourself about by attending a Del show at least once a year.

Dave Reimer, a bass player in Blacksburg, Va., first turned me on to the band about the time of their Cold Hard Facts album. We saw them perform at a high school in Craig County. Five guys. One mic. They wove around that mic then as they do now, as if they're dancing around the May pole. The show I saw last month at the Wolftrap reminded me of the Craig County show for a few reasons: it was comprised almost totally of requests; and the band remained extremely tight while giving off the loosest on-stage persona of any band I've ever seen. Nothing seemed preordained. They were playing in that room, that night, for me. I've seen so many bands over the years where they give a single shoutout: Hello Roanoke! (Or Austin, or Washington, or Columbus). And that's the only time they veer from script, the only time they acknowledge that they're in a different city than they were in the night before. Not so with Del, who seems so happy to be standing on that stage, playing with his sons (along with fiddler Jason Carter, who must be like a son by now, and Alan Bartram, who replaced Mike Bub on bass a couple of years ago). Their music combines old and new. It has a history and it has an edge. And every time I see the play, I go home smiling.

The Wolftrap show is being turned into a live album, despite Ronnie losing his voice, which will be put out on the band's own label (check out A label means that, creatively, they can do pretty much anything they want. But it seems that's what they've been doing for a long time now. And it works.

Monday, October 29, 2007

hey, porter

I still need to do a review of the Del McCoury Band's last show at Wolftrap. Without a newspaper deadline to keep, I can't seem to meet any deadlines. Just wanted to make a quick post to say:

RIP Porter Wagoner
Here he is in a youtube clip performing "Run That By Me One More Time" with my hero, Dolly Parton.

Go Sox
Wanted to echo the wishes of my husband and the rest of Red Sox to say Please Sign Lowell. Please Sign Lowell. And to add my wonder: The fans said PLEASE when they yelled this after Sunday night's game. If you've been to any live sporting events recently, you'd be amazed, too!)

I went running today. If you knew ME you'd be amazed. I'm not promising this is going to happen more than once, however. This is what happens to you when your friends pledge to do half marathons. I have made no such pledge; I'm just along for the ride. (Or run, as it were.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

someday, someway

In 1985, I had tickets to see Marshall Crenshaw play at After Sundown in Blacksburg, Va.
I also had a curfew.
So I stayed through Let's Active and then turned into a pumpkin before Marshall and his band ever played the first notes of Cynical Girl, which at the time was my all-time favorite song, not to mention an important part of my I-am-so-done-with-high-school persona.
My friend, Jen, had a curfew, too.
But we don't have curfews anymore, which is how we ended up finally seeing Marshall Crenshaw on Sunday night.
The crowd was decidedly middle age. WE were decidedly middle age. Which meant our conversation went something like this:
"Has it really been... GOD. IT'S BEEN 22 YEARS. THAT CAN'T BE RIGHT?"
"It's right."
"But it. GOD!"

I was afraid the show was going to be like that, too. Me and Jen, MIDDLE AGE, watching Marshall play his old hits while we tried to figure out where the time had gone and whether we would ever consider wearing tube tops again.

But it wasn't. It was great.

Marshall Crenshaw did play some of his old hits, but with new arrangements, sometimes jazzy, sometimes bluesy, all on a hollow-body guitar like Maybelle Carter used to play. He was good. Wry. Funny. His voice sounded like he'd been doing shows like this a lot lately: just himself and a guitar and two hours of singing. But he was still in fine form, his guitar chops were excellent, and his choice of covers (A Merle Haggard tune, The Who's Whiskey Man and Woman on Death Row by the late, great Lee Hazelwood) shows that he has more than just a good pop music sensibility. He has a good sense of music history. He's a fan as well as a musician. And his new stuff (think mortality but with a beat you can dance to) is still hitting me where I live.

Friday, October 12, 2007


My neighbor is trying to talk me into doing an Iron Girl competition next year. I try to point out things like: I haven't run since high school phys ed. She seems to think this doesn't matter very much. She seems to think wrong.
"The running part is only three miles," she says.
Yeah, but...
"And the swimming is only 30 minutes. You can swim for 30 minutes."
Yeah, but...
"And the bike riding is only 15 miles," she says. "What's 15 miles on a bike?"
Fifteen miles on a bike is FIFTEEN MILES, I think. 
"I'll think about it," I tell her. And I will.
Our discussion led to whether or not there was a Triathlete Barbie. My daughter got a bunch of Barbies from a kind neighbor recently and Triathlete Barbie was not among them. Enough has been said about Barbie to know that I'm already covering tired ground when I accuse the Barbies she did get of being whores. But I have to say it anyway. I mean, can't Barbie be fancy without a faux leather pants suit that was obviously designed for a dominatrix?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


For our first pet beyond caterpillars we got a betta, as of yet unnamed. (Candidates include Screwblue, Aqua, Sharky and Zeke.)

One hour after we got him home, my daughter said: "Look! He's not dead yet!"

So far so good, but I still think we'd better name him soon. If we don't, what will go on his tombstone?

Monday, October 1, 2007

Be kind to others

In trying to teach my kids the Golden Rule I have realized that I don't follow it myself, at least not often enough. I'm not kind to strangers. I try to be kind to the people I know, but deep down, I can still be a bit of a bitch. Since this is the information age, I decided to look it up on the internet, a simple google search for "how to be kind." I came up with this from WikiHow. It's a decent list as far as that sort of thing goes, but I cracked up when I got to the bottom. Related searches included "How to be happy" and "How to cheer up a grumpy coworker" and "How to make simple beaded earrings." Until now, I hadn't put together the link between kindness and simple beaded earrings. Now that I know, I'm off to the craft store. I feel kinder and gentler already.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Uncle Monk

I went out last night to Jammin' Java in Vienna. This is the first time I've been to Jammin' Java without the kids, and therefore the first time I've been there after dark, the first time I've been there to see someone other than Rocknoceros or Mr. Frank the Banjo Man. The someone was actually two someones; a duo called Uncle Monk that featured Tommy Ramone.

I love the Ramones. And I love bluegrass. So the idea of one of The Ramones playing bluegrass was impossible to pass up. (Plus, my brother had seen Uncle Monk in New York. "Isn't this kind of a nexus for you?" he said. "You need to go.")

You might remember Tommy as The Sane Ramone, if you watched the documentary on the group, which I did. Sort of. I had to turn it off half way through because I was afraid too much information would ruin my fantasy about these guys and things turned dicey fast.  You also might remember him as The Living Ramone, as he's the only remember of the original four who's still alive today (though later Ramones, including Marky, who replaced Tommy as drummer and was around circa Rocket to Russia days, are still kicking, too.)

Tommy does not show up for performances in a leather jacket. His hair is still long, but it's gray now, pulled back in a ponytail. He wears suspenders. He looks like a guy you might see sitting outside a vegetarian restaurant reading Mother Jones Magazine. He plays mandolin pretty well. Not well like Ricky Skaggs or Dave Grisman or Ronnie McCoury, but he doesn't have anything to be embarrassed about. He also sings. His voice isn't high and lonesome. It is simply his voice, on key, honest, singing the songs that speak to him now, like "Working on a Building" and "Long Journey Home" or any of the roots-inspired tunes he made up. 

His partner, Claudia Tienan, has a voice built for bluegrass and old-time. She sings the way the old folks do, like a ventriloquist, with her mouth hardly opening at all. She plucks a steady rhythm on the guitar but I didn't see her try so much as a G-run. Her last band was called "The Simplistics," if that serves as explanation. And perhaps it does. You don't need to be Mozart to make good music. You just need guts.

In the 1970s, Tommy Ramone knew enough about music to help change it. I wouldn't say that he's changing music now. But he's making music. He still has something to contribute so he's doing it. That's punk. And that's what counts.

Monday, September 17, 2007

rip Sunday morning bluegrass

Okay, it's not totally gone, they say. They've just moved all of my Sunday bluegrass programming to HD Radio. But I don't have HD radio, I have no plans to get HD Radio and if HD Radio is responsible for the loss of my bluegrass from the regular ol' airwaves then I don't even LIKE HD Radio, no matter what the merits may be.

I could rant more, but more than anything else, this just makes me sad. 

Friday, September 14, 2007


From deep in the burbs of Washington, D.C., we offer you this tribute (or, if you prefer, parody) of The Boss. Nutstock, Vienna, Va., 2007.

Friday, September 7, 2007

random thoughts

I figure the least they could do is figure out a way to make spam gender-specific. That way I wouldn't get so many e-mails asking me to buy Viagra.

My family is on what we lovingly term "financial lockdown," due to the purchase of the new vehicle and the first car payment we've had since 1995. This, of course, makes me want to spend more money than ever before. Thus, even as we dined on beans and rice, even as I knew I could jeopardize our mortgage, I felt I absolutely HAD TO HAVE this piece of Obama ephemera after I saw it mentioned in the Washington Post. I know historic schlock when I see it.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

ye olde gift shoppe

As you may have heard me mention, I am sick, sick, sick of the way people market to kids. Because when they do, the side effect is torture. TORTURE. It's hard enough to take a trip to the Air and Space Museum and discover they have not one, not two, but something like FOUR GIFT SHOPS on display along with the Voyager. (Well, it's four if you count the kiosks, which I do, because they are stocked with $4.00 astronaut ice cream and no 5-year-old can walk by astronaut ice cream without asking for some.) I got out with a NASA patch (the agreed-upon purchase for my son's bookbag), a space shuttle pen and my life.

But the rant continues because we just got back from putt-putt golfing at Mutiny Bay in the Outer Banks. To get either in or out, you had to pass through the Mutiny Bay Gift Shop. Pirate golf balls: $2 a piece. Pirate flags. Pirate ships. Pirate shot glasses. Pirate swords. Little pirates with guns. Big pirates with guns. Some of their stuff was actually priced pretty decently but I DON'T WANT STUFF. I WANT TO PAY MY $7.50 SO I CAN WATCH MY SON NINE-PUTT THE CANNON HOLE. IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK??? I got out with our golfing score card. And a few tears. No extra charge.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

recommended viewing for July 2007

The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

The trouble with Harry

Impossible to get a decent night's sleep until I finished the new Harry Potter. The reviews haven't been 100 percent kind to that book, even before it was written. And I certainly agree with some of the criticisms. But for Rowling's ability to create a wolrd and move me into it for however long it takes to read those pages, for her to create voices that I can hear inside my head and hillsides that I can see even without closing my eyes, I applaud the hell out of her. I love these books -- every bit as much as I loved "A Wrinkle in Time" when I was a kid (you can see the similarities). I loved the chance to be part of the magic again. Could have done without the epilogue, however...Aside from being totally cheesy, it came at the end of a book that really taps into your imagination, and then took away any chance for you to actually use that imagination.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

You reap what you sow? Yeah, right.

This is the kind of speech you can only use figuratively. Gardenwise it just isn't adding up for me.

I planted zucchini and yellow squash and tomatoes and cucumbers and radishes.
The rabbits took over so we built a fence.
The radish havest came up okay but the tomatoes got attacked by birds.
The cucumbers got hijacked by a bunch of renegade chipmonks.
We tried covering the plants with a net. That stopped the birds, but not the renegade chipmonks. I tried to put toilet paper rolls over the stems of the squash but we still got those borer beetles. And the drought hasn't helped. Inconsistant watering leads to blossom end rot, despite putting tums in the soil to help give it a boost of calcium. We're still getting something of a harvest. Not all of the tomatoes have blossom end rot, and the little cucumbers are doing great (the vine produces so many that it's okay if we have a couple of renegade chipmonks). And how much zucchini does one family need? Still, we are NOT reaping what we sow here. Not by a longshot.

Friday, July 20, 2007

new vehicles

So we've just bought ourselves a new vehicle. Am suffering from buyer's remorse in that
1. it isn't a hybrid
2. it isn't a station wagon.
We weren't station wagon people when I was a kid, we were sedan people. Now that I'm a grownup and should get to BE a station wagon person, I just couldn't find the right option. I was ticked off at Suburu for the way they treated us when our old Suburu died. The Passat didn't stack up in consumer reports (or our own affordability index). And my beloved Toyota STOPPED MAKING STATION WAGONS SOMETIME IN THE 90s. So here we are in a regular Accord, which looks kind of purlish in the right light. I feel like I'm cheating on Toyota (my Corolla has 230,000 miles and counting) but they let me down first with this station wagon business.

At least we didn't get a KIA Sedona. And at least, as I enter into my first car payment since 1995, I now know what kind of cars are out there. My friend Mia says they don't make cars for people like us. I think she might be right.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

ladybird johnson, rip

It is a weird thing to learn somebody's still alive just in time to hear about her death. There I was, looking at that same Frank Wolfe photo of the first lady in a field of painted wild flowers. The photo hadn't changed, but everything else had, which I guess is the way it always is. No great words of wisdom, here. Just wanted to note my sadness at her passing.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Things my 2-year-old wants:
A swing
Fairy wings
For her friend Gabriella to live with us

Things my 5-year-old wants
A fiddle
A boy-sized rocket that really works
A different ending for Stuart Little (the book, not the movie)
For his preschool friends to be in his kindergarten class
A playmobil cruiser
New Legos
A brother-in-law

Things I want:
Dining room curtains
A black cardigan
A new pair of chucks
Stronger thighs
For Toyota to start making station wagons again
Glow sticks
A hermit crab
A different administration
World peace

Wednesday, May 9, 2007


My definition's certainly different now, but when I was a kid, I considered myself deprived because I never had the following:

Cowboy boots
Glow sticks
A prairie skirt (that's because I was short, I think, and not because my folks said "no." They did say "no" to the rest of this list.)
A hermit crab
Designer jeans
A cap gun

That's Right (You're not from Texas)

There's supposed to be a buzz when you get back from the trip. Sometimes it lasts a day. Sometimes it lasts a week. If you're lucky, it can last even longer. We weren't so lucky when we got back from Texas. The Tech shooting happened the day after we came home, and that buzz wore off even before we'd fully digested the last migas taco from Maria's. Still, late as it is, I wanted to mention a few highlights from the trip.

1. The bats at the Congress Street Bridge: It wasn't like batman, with bats flying in every which way. These squeaky guys, part of the largest urban bat colony in the U.S., flew out in one long, steady stream, a ribbon of bats trailing into the night sky. They're more impressive when you stand underneath them and watch them fly overhead. The ribbon never seems to end. That's because there are as many as 1.5 million bats under that bridge at any given time. Just as impressive is the pr campaign conducted by one Mervin Tuttle, who convinced Austin that hosting all of these bats was a good thing.

2. Maria's Taco Xpress. Our pictures of Texas appear to be largely of food, giving me new insight into the split panel of ZZ Top's Tres Hombres album. We ate at Maria's three times and recommend the breakfast taco with chorizo and potatoes and the migas taco, along with the vinegar and cilantro salsa.

3. Grackles. Yikes. These guys are everywhere in Austin and they'll eat your migas taco if you leave it sitting on your plate for too long.

4. South Austin Jugband: They're getting a jam band reputation, apparently (Willie, the guitarist, has white-guy dreads) but they are amazing musicians and they're super-exciting to watch.

5. Miss Leslie and her Juke Boxers: Think Patsy Cline or Loretta Lynne. Low voice, with lots of huevos. We caught her at Miss Jenny's Little Bighorn.

6. The Broken Spoke. An old-school honky tonk that's extremely well known but not all that touristy. The back room shows pictures of the owner with Bob Wills, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton and more. It's all about dancing here, with couples in matching cowboy outfits (some as old as 80) twirling around the floor. We saw fiddler Alvin Crow. Owner James White made the rounds in his cowboy hat and spangled shirt. He led these people to the table next to us and I was gawking a bit, ticked off that they were getting the royal treatment and we weren't. I fingered my Lone Star Beer and sulked, so I missed it when my husband muttered something through the side of his mouth. Two hours later I learned that he'd muttered "Willem Dafoe."

7. Linkletter fans, we had to take a short dazed and confused tour. Sadly, most of the stuff from Dazed is gone now, but we did visit a moontower (as in "party at the moontower" and Top Notch burger (though we ate at Huts). The moontowers were used to light the city ages ago, before the town fathers were ready to spring for street lights.

8. Speaking of western shirts, my husband bought an amazing one. Will try to put in a detail shot of that, too, in time.

9. The chain gang wasn't present here, at least in the downtown. We didn't see Starbucks, we saw Spiders and Joe's. Even the airport has mostly indy restaurants (Salt Lick BBQ and Amy's Ice Cream are local chains, not national ones.)

10. Polvo's restaurant: The best fish I've ever eaten. Name of fish to come when I consult my journal.

11. Ladybird Johnson Wildlife Center. Filled with bluebonnets and cactuses, it's a nice refuge not far from the city. Biggest revelation: LADYBIRD JOHNSON IS STILL ALIVE. She's 94.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Expanding horizons

My son went on a field trip with his preschool class to Harris Teeter.
When I picked him up I asked him if he'd learned anything new.
"Harris Teeter sells five different kinds of peppers," he said. "And they have a very nice wine department."

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Home again

Went on another whirlwind weekend out of town and stopped off in Blacksburg. I didn't go to see the flowers piled on the drill field, though I knew they were there. I didn't go to see the news crews that still roam the streets, though with much less visibility than the week before. I didn't walk across the campus or eat at Mike's Grill or drink at the Cellar.

I just went home.

End of civility

The above header should take you to a Washington Post article about threats and harassment against female bloggers. I'm not surprised. A friend of mine had a blog on parenting that she ditched because of weirdos. And I have to admit that a recent tour of the Internet made me think about ditching these posts, too, or at least limiting them to people I know and trust.

Towit: Last week, under the comments section on my Washington Post op ed, I found a few disturbing missives. The worst began something like: "If I saw you I would kick you in the crotch and remind you that you have 40 years of life left while these children are now rotting corpses... " It went on. My husband asked for its removal, due, in part, to the threatening nature and in part to the language. I understand that the subject of Blacksburg and death and victims is cause for anger and upset. Duh. I feel it, too. But why have we reached a point where anyone who doesn't agree with you exactly is suddenly the enemy? I got similar responses when I covered music. I was a c#&$ because of a few choice words about Puff Daddy. Ditto after I gave Aerosmith a great review but disparaged ever-so-slightly Steve Tyler's voice on "Dream On." But that wasn't quite as personal as what I felt last week.

To make me feel a little better, a little less shaky, my husband took me to other comment sections at the Post website. Almost every story had something pointed and nasty written after it, under the cloak of anonymity. No "I respectfully disagree." Just swears and threats and curses. Ditto on youtube after a video of Nikki Giovanni's speech from the recent Tech convocation.

Why are people so angry, me included?

Why did I get ticked off at the woman in the wildflower shop, just because she didn't know the states in which the Bluebonnet was considered a native plant?

Why did the Marine from Colorado hang up on my stepdad after calling him, blindly, to see if he agreed that cadets should pack guns on campus and serve as a backup police force. (My stepdad didn't agree, thus the hangup. But doesn't civility command a "goodbye, and thank you for your time?")

Why, when someone cuts you off or stays in the left lane too long, does that person suddenly become a (insert swearword here) as opposed to just some dude whose driving could stand a little improvement? (I'm sure I could find a way to relate all of this back to Don Imus, but for now let's just leave him out of it.)

I'm not sure of the answers, but I'm glad people are asking the questions. Meanwhile, my spring resolution is to try to mellow out. To be -- at the risk of sounding like a deadhead -- kind. I'm hoping more people will do the same.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Later on this page you'll find an op-ed article that I wrote for the Washington Post today.

This is the first time I've written anything for the post. It started out as a blog entry, but long about midnight, it turned into something else. At 1 a.m., I sent it in through the post's web site, and less than 24 hours later, there it was. I mentioned that I've felt impotent not being a part of the team of people who are reporting on the hell at Virginia Tech. So being able to contribute this one small piece to the dialogue means a whole lot to me.

One thing that Autumn Brewington, the Post's assistant editorial director, asked me last night (or, okay, earlier tonight) was whether I had any interests in the town of Blacksburg that she should know about. It was a relevant question, and I told her no. I don't work for the town. I don't work for the university. I don't work for the Chamber of Commerce.

But do I have a personal stake or gain in defending my hometown, and in letting people know that it's more than a name, more than a massacre?

Well, yeah.

We all do, right?

Anyway, the article follows:
My Town's Pain
By Madelyn Rosenberg
Washington Post
Wednesday, April 18, 2007; A23

I wasn't born in Blacksburg, Va., but I lived there most of my life. If my husband hadn't dragged me to a bigger city -- "where something actually happens and restaurants serve more than hamburgers" -- I'd be there still.
Your home town defines you. It helps make you what you are. Now that this thing, this massacre, has defined my home town, I wonder if my definition is going to change, too.
Last August, when a gunman committed a double murder in Blacksburg, people said the town had lost its innocence. Ridiculous, hyperbolic swill, I thought. Transplants. Commentators. What did they know? It was awful, yes, especially for the families of the people killed. It would scar the town. But the scar would fade.
What happened in Blacksburg this week will not fade.
I feel for the families whose loved ones died. I feel for the students who eventually will have to go back to Norris Hall and for the professors who will have to teach as if life just goes on. I feel for the staff members who will have to paint those once-white walls.
And I feel for the town.
When I heard the first news reports, I wanted to get in my car and drive home. It was as if I needed to visit an ailing relative, to tell her one more time that I loved her. But my kids had school, and my husband had work; I settled for e-mails and phone calls to loved ones.
My last memory of Blacksburg, then, is from two weeks ago: redbuds bursting along the highway and in my mother's front yard. My children watching as the painted turtles sunbathed at Pandapas Pond. The fresh-mowed grass, filled with the promise of spring.
I smiled a lot and ate chicken and lentils at a new Ethiopian restaurant and marveled at the changes. It is law in a real home town that its children forever marvel at its changes. That is why I can walk along Main Street and still be shocked that the arcade where I played Caterpillar and flirted with Tim Harrison is now a college bookstore.
But no one who is thinking about Blacksburg now is thinking about the redbuds.
The gray stone of the campus buildings conjures the gray stone of a cemetery, and the maroon of a college sweatshirt is the color of dried blood.
My inclination is to write an obituary, though my home town isn't dead. It is survived by a lot of friendly, caring people.
And if they can survive, the town can survive, too, even as people talk about death. Even as people across the country watch TV and see someone else's town, someone else's school.
Say what you will about the end of innocence. But remember that just the other day, Blacksburg was a beautiful small town in America. Like yours.
Madelyn Rosenberg is a freelance writer in Arlington.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


A lot of things made me cry on Monday, but I thought I'd list a few of the things that made me smile.

The thougt of Tom's birthday meal at India Palace
Karina's "Yippee-i-o" in her new cowboy hat
Ornette Coleman's Pulitzer

A short list, I suppose. It was that kind of day.

Monday, April 16, 2007

And now there are


My mom got home to Blacksburg a few minutes ago and therefore already knows everything the newspapers have reported, and then some.

It could have happened anywhere, I guess. The thing is, it didn't.


Blacksburg as I knew it

I thought (arrogantly) since I was on the subject of Blacksburg that I'd link to an essay I wrote about it in 2000, the year I moved away.

virginia tech

I was going to spend today writing about Austin, Tx., The Broken Spoke, Willem Dafoe, Dazed and Confused and Maria's Taco Xpress. But I waited too long. I should have started writing the second I returned from my trip, a weekend away from the kids, a weekend spent holding a hand that was not sticky with chocolate. Because when I finally sat down at my computer, ready to write, I learned that my hometown of Blacksburg, Va. (unofficial slogan: Blacksburg, Va., An Easy Place to Live) had been ripped apart by a shooting I still can't process.
I check CNN whenever the kids are out of the room.
One dead.
Then seven.
Then 20.
Then 21.
I have the urge to jump in my car and drive home, to start stringing for my old newspaper. I feel impotent when I'm not reporting. And reporting my feelings doesn't count. And then I think: maybe silence is better. Maybe silence is really the only thing that can allow you to feel the enormity of something like this. Though it doesn't do jack to help you understand it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

kia addendum

We went downtown with our neighbors yesterday in an SUV that's bigger than my daughter's bedroom. My son checked out the built-in DVD player. "Mommy!" he said. "Look! They have a Kia Sedona."
(For the record, it wasn't a Kia. It was a Yukon XL.)

Monday, April 9, 2007

a short rant

Almost daily, we're assaulted by new marketing campaigns created especially for my kids. Last month, for instance, we taped their favorite TV show, "The Backyardigans," off of Nickelodean instead of off of their commercial-free Noggin. Instead of talking about the new episode (they'd seen "Knights are Brave and Strong about 20 times), my son came upstairs and asked for a Kia Sedona.
"Why do you want one of those?" I asked him.
"It has lots of safety features," he said. "AND it has a DVD player." I know it's not quite fair to blame a car for loss of innocence, but suffice it to say, our family will never own a Kia Sedona. And we're going back to taping our second-run shows off of Noggin (which has this horror-show of a slogan: "It's Like Preschool On TV!" I'll save that rant for later.)

Assault No. 2 My mom and I took the kids shopping this weekend in search of a suit for my cousin's wedding. We checked Once Upon a Child first, but apparently, nobody dresses up in Blacksburg, Va. So we checked J.C. Penney We didn't find a suit. But the kids did discover T-shirts, bright red, with a dinosaur plastered across the chest. It wasn't the dinosaur that interested them, so much as the trains and remote-control trucks that were encased in plastic and hung over the hangers. Cost: $17 bucks. It's probably a losing battle, but suppose I'll try boycotting J.C. Penney for awhile, too. I'm not a huge fan of Raffi's music, but I do appreciate his involvement in the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood ( It's time to get radical. Past time.

organizing my life

I'm not so good at organization. Witness: my bedroom. The countertops. The bookshelves. But this morning I had a lot of appointments to make and people to contact. My usual filing and procrastination systems were just not options.
I wrote down all of the numbers I needed to dial last night. At 8 a.m., I began making calls. By 8:20 a.m. I had:
A dentist appointment
An appointment for an X-ray (which is code for mammogram, but I'm still not comfortable letting it all hang out on a blog. So to speak.)
An appointment with the pest control people
The confirmation that my son doesn't really need a second TB test
The dollar amount that we paid in taxes on our two automobiles last year (That would be $48)

This is the most I've accomplished in one morning since before I had kids. I'm thinking of writing Heloise. My letter would also include a hint to making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and French toast without destroying the bread. (In case you wondered: The bread should be frozen.)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

shave and a haircut

Just so you know, I'm not going to do this on a daily basis. But I am going to practice a little for the day I might have a REAL BLOG that will be viewed by REAL PEOPLE instead of random peeping toms who happen to come across me and wonder if I have something to say. I have a lot to say, but I'm not yet in the habit of saying it in a blog. I explain it to my children, I tell it to my friends, I yell it at my husband (sorry, Butch), but I don't usually lay it out for all of the world to see unless I'm getting paid. My friend Tom gave me this mantra a few years ago: "You don't get out of bed for less than $300." He thought my publication standards were a little low, I think. What will he think now?

As long as I'm doing this, I might as well dive in with some personal mundanities, namely: I got my hair cut today. We're not just talking any haircut. We're talking the best haircut ever. The cutter (I have some sort of aversion to the word "beautician") was a big Greek woman named Farey who was in cohoots with my mother, who has hated my hairstyles (or lack thereof) for as long as I can remember. I sat down and asked for a trim, a blunt cut, straight across.
"No," she said.
"Are you sure?" I asked her. "I was thinking just a little off the bottom."
"No," she said. "You need body. Layers. You need layers."
I haven't had layers since the Dorothy Hammill cut I had in elementary school, but I wasn't sure Farey would know who Dorothy was so I didn't say anything.
"I will cut," she said, "here. Yes?"
We had our dining room painted in June and Oscar, the guy who painted it, treated me the same way.
"I want gray and white," I said.
"I have a nice yellow."
"But I want gray and white," I said.
"Blue is nice."
I'm not much of a decorator, and I know it. So did Oscar, who seemed so pained by tmy choice of gray that I let him pick the colors: blue and yellow, with white trim. Very French. Or very Hanukkah. I'm not sure which, but the room looks amazing.
I told Fayer she could do what she wanted with my hair. She cut long layers that sound dumb but actually constitute my first grownup haircut in years. (I just hit 40 so this is quite a milestone).
"Do you blow it dry?" she asked.
"I don't," I said. "But if you must."
"I must," she said. And she did.
If anyone lives in Arlington: Salon Image, next to the Lost Dog Cafe. I know when I'm licked and I'm not going anywhere else. I'm sure my mother will be writing Farey a thank-you note some day very soon.

Addendum: April 9
Cruel Temptress. Farey, it seems, has given me one of those cuts that only SHE can manage. She has given me something that requires PRODUCT. And a BLOWDRYER. Still, I cannot help it. She has me hooked.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

so here we are

My first post. I feel like someone should smash a champagne bottle or something, but I fear for my keyboard.