Entries Tagged as 'Kitchenlightenment'
“Ask me a question.”
Every Saturday afternoon, I go for a long run, and Phoebe bikes alongside me, and this is what she says to me the minute we hit the trail. “Ask me a question.” Which is really her way of saying: Ask me a question about a book I am currently reading, and I will summarize the plot for you while you run, which will distract you from the agony of exercising. Some of these summaries are quick, easily dispatched. Family lives on prairie, endures terrible storms, long winters, and much suffering, but survives. Girl deals with embarrassing dental issues, gets braces, endures much teasing, but survives. Handsome man has superpowers, saves world. The past few weekends, though, things have gotten a little more involved. “Tell me about this Pseudonymous Bosch guy,” I say to Phoebe, as we set out. “What are those books about, exactly?” Phoebe pedals for a bit, thinking. “Hmmmm,” she says. “That’s hard.” “Try,” I say. “Well,” she says, “they’re basically about the five senses: smell, sight, feel, hearing, and taste. There’s a lot of chocolate in the third book. And there’s this group of evil guys called the Midnight Sun, who are trying to figure out The Secret, which I think is about immortality. The main characters are named Cass and Max-Ernest and… it’s hard to explain.” She’s often still explaining when we stop, forty-five minutes later.
I first encountered the Pseudonymous Bosch books two and a half years ago, on one of those gray winter days when the town library is closed and you’re sitting in your house, dying of claustrophobia and getting on each other’s nerves and it’s too cold to do anything outside, so you end up — jail break! — camping out in the kids’ section at Barnes and Noble, trying to avoid spending money on Care Bear sticker books. The kids wandered off, and I did, too. I found a book and picked it up based entirely on the title (The Name of This Book is Secret) and the beauty of its cover. God, was this a nice looking, well thought-out, creative book. I flipped to the back flap, to see who was behind it: based on the author bio alone, I wanted to have it. Then I opened it up, and here’s what I saw on the third page:
Okay, now I REALLY wanted this book. Or, better, I couldn’t wait until our kids were old enough to read a book this weird and fun. Two and half years later, we find ourselves in the summer of Pseudonymous Bosch. Phoebe is obsessed. (Jenny and I wish she’d be a little less obsessed, to be honest, as it feels like we never see her anymore.) She’s knocked off all four since school ended, and is awaiting the fifth, You Have to Stop This. (Memo to P. Bosch fom Phoebe: Hurry the heck up already!) Unfortunately, that next installment is going to be a little bit later than it otherwise might have been, as Pseudonymous himself was kind enough to take precious writing time to contribute the next installment of our Summer Reading Series, a roundup of his favorite mysteries for kids. To be a nine year old again…
As my readers well know, I am a secretive author, desperately afraid not just of the public spotlight but even the smallest penlight. (It’s the batteries—I have trouble replacing them in my remote location.) Nonetheless, I occasionally find myself making appearances at glamorous venues such as elementary school cafeterias and the backs of chain bookstores, most of which seem to close permanently a few days later. Why a phobic character such as myself should choose to expose himself like that is a question best left to my psychiatrist. (I mean, my publicist). I have, however, learned to come armed with certain provisions to protect myself against the prying public. They are, in no particular order: large scratch-proof sunglasses, emergency chocolate rations, a discrete handheld sound-effects machine (sirens, gunfire, broken glass, farts, etc.), and book recommendations.
Why book recommendations? Because What books do you recommend? is almost always the one hundredth question I get (the first ninety-nine being What is your real name?). Because my books are meant to be mysteries, I usually recommend mystery books. And because my audience is meant to be younger, I usually recommend adult mysteries. I figure somebody else has already recommended The Hardy Boys or Harriet the Spy, so instead I mention Edgar Allan Poe or Dashiell Hammet or Dorothy Sayers (the latter author being a particular favorite of mine when I was a kid). But I fear that you—the reader of this blog—are most likely an adult. Thus, out of sheer perversity, and also because it was requested, I am going to recommend a few children’s titles that have lately held my interest. One thing that is wonderful about young readers is that they still retain the power to be mystified. As an adult, I find that children’s books help restore my sense of mystery. Hopefully, these books will do that for you, too. And if you have an actual child by your side, all the better.
The Circus in the Mist by Bruno Munari (only available used)
This almost wordless book was one of my favorites when I was very young and I still love to look at it. Written and illustrated—perhaps the best word is created—by the Italian designer and book-magician Bruno Munari, The Circus in the Mist takes the reader on a journey into a “mist,” which is represented by translucent vellum pages. Spare yet playful, each page teases you into turning to the next. In the middle of the book, you are rewarded with a circus, and all its fun and familiar acts, but at the end you are returned to the mist, as if to say that the mysteriousness of the mist itself—not the circus it hides—is the true wonder. (more…)
[Read more →]
Tags:pseudonymous bosch·secret series·summer book club·summer reading for kids·summer reading series
You should have seen the look on Phoebe’s face when I told her that Daniel Handler was going to contribute a Summer Reading List for DALS. It’s how I imagine my own face would have looked if, back in 1981, my dad had walked through the door and said, “Hi everyone, yeah, long day at work. I’m just gonna go upstairs and put my bathrobe on. Oh, and Andy: the Rolling Stones are going to play at your birthday party this year.” Daniel Handler — and how many people, other than close relatives, can you say this about — has had a genuine, rock star-like impact on our oldest daughter’s life. The thirteen mind-blowing books he wrote, under the pseudonym Lemony Snicket, are the books Phoebe might well remember most when she’s old and forty. First of all, she read them all in about two weeks, curled up on the corner of our family room couch, and we basically didn’t see or hear from her until she was done. We’re talking serious, deep transportation. Second of all, these books give you faith in the human imagination. They’re so beautifully, joyously done. In some ways, they’re the books that opened her up to the value of darkness in a story, and of the way good and evil, and life and death, can coexist. “Imagine lemonade,” Phoebe said, when I asked her to describe what the books are like. “Only with barely any sugar.” Which is exactly how I would have put it, happy as I was to discover these books, too, after so many years of unrelenting cheeriness and pointless plot-iness and overweening cutesiness and, as Phoebe suggests, way too much sugar. (I’m not naming names.) You can never accuse Daniel Handler of ever using too much sugar. That goes for his adult books as well, and, we presume, for Why We Broke Up, the young adult book he is publishing this fall with the illustrator, Maira Kalman, with whom he has partnered before, to gorgeous results. (This is a go-to gift book for us.) We are huge Daniel Handler fans here at DALS, and we’re honored to have him tell us about his favorite picture books. (Plus one not-so-picture book that he couldn’t resist throwing in. See: Darkness, above.) Without further ado, Daniel Handler on what your kids should be reading this summer…
Dillweed’s Revenge by Florence Parry Heide
This one was written a long time ago, and Edward Gorey was supposed to illustrate it, but he pulled a jerk move and died. It’s really remarkable, the story of a young man with terrible parents who evntually finds ways to deal with them — through monstrous acts of witchraft and menace. It was finally illustrated by the amazing Carson Ellis, who’s probably best known for the album covers she does for her husband’s band, The Decemberists. The art has this kind of abstract, Rothko-y, wet quality to it. It’s old-fashioned Victorian meets the dark unplummable depths of the human soul. For kids!
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen (note: this is coming out in September, but you can pre-order now) (more…)
[Read more →]
Tags:daniel handler·daniel handler maira kalman·lemony snicket·summer book club·summer reading series
I remember exactly where I was when I read the short story, “Pastoralia,” by George Saunders: I was finishing lunch at my desk, back when I had hair and worked at Esquire magazine on 55th Street. As soon as I finished, I copied it and – this was 2000, remember – faxed it to a couple of the writers I worked with, no cover note attached. I thought it would inspire them. A few hours later, the emails started coming in: “I’m never going to write again.” “Jesus, man.” “Why would you do that to me?” Would I do this again? I would. Because great writing is inspiring and George Saunders is a great and inspired writer. He has the distinction of being the author of some of my all-time favorite grown-up fiction (my favorite is the story collection, Pastoralia, but really: you can’t go wrong), my all-time favorite kid fiction (The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, for ages 6-12, which we have featured before), and some of my favorite non-fiction (collected, thank you god, here). He’s also a genius. (True story. He’s way too modest to tell you this, but he’s a winner of the crazy-prestigious MacArthur “genius” grant.) What I’m saying is, we love George Saunders, love his beautiful, generous view of the world, and love the fact that he is a friend of DALS. We asked him for a Summer Reading List for Kids, and here’s what he sent us. I don’t know about you, but I’m buying all of them. Take it away, George…
Well, to start with, an apology/disclaimer. Our kids are grown and I’ve been away from kids’ books for awhile, although I well remember the thrill, on a cold autumn night, of snuggling in with both our girls and feeling like: ah, day is done, all is well. Some of what follows may be old news, but hopefully one or two will be new to you.
Okay. Let’s start with Kashtanka, by Anton Chekhov and Gennady Spirin (Ages 9-12). I’ve written about this at length at Lane Smith’s excellent website, but suffice to say it’s a beautiful, simple, kind-hearted story with illustrations that are beautiful and realistic with just the right touch of oddness.
Speaking of Lane Smith, who is, to my mind, the greatest kids’ book illustrator of our time, I’d recommend all his books but maybe particularly an early one, The Happy Hocky Family (Ages 4-8). It’s funny and arch but at its core is a feeling of real familial love. With Lane, every book has its own feeling, and this one is sort of minimal and yet emotive – right up my alley.
Back when we were doing our book together, The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, Lane turned me on to The Shrinking of Treehorn, by Florence Parrry Heide (Ages 6-8). This is one of those books that stakes out its claim to greatness by showing something that, though harsh, is also deeply true: Grownups often don’t see kids and don’t listen to them. The illustrations are masterpieces of 1970s cool, by the great Edward Gorey.
I love The Hundred Dresses (by Eleanor Estes, illustrated Louis Slobodkin, ages 7-9) for a similar reason. On this ostensibly small palette of a kid’s book, Estes has told a deep unsettling truth, one that we seem to be forgetting; as Terry Eagleton put it: “Capitalism plunders the sensuality of the body.” Here, poverty equals petty humiliation, which drives a child, Wanda Petronski, to lie, and be teased for the lie, and then to create something beautiful – but the great heart-dropping trick of this book is that the other characters in the book discover Wanda’s inner beauty late, too late, and she is already far away, and never gets to learn she has devastated them with her work of art, and changed her vision of the world. This is a book that, I think, has the potential to rearrange a child’s moral universe in an enduring way. (more…)
[Read more →]
Tags:books for kids·george saunders·george saunders recommended reading·kids summer book club·summer book club·summer reading series
Almost always, when we have friends for dinner, there comes a point when Andy turns to me or vice versa and says “Should we check on her?” And by that we mean, should we try to lure back whatever guest has walked in our front door only to be whisked upstairs to Abby’s lair for a “tour” of her room. It’s not that we don’t think our seven-year-old is doing anything but charming the pants off her, but receiving a personal introduction to all 8,000 of her Littlest Pet Shop Pets is a task I believe only a mother could love — scratch that — I mean, a task only a father could endure, and definitely not in the job description of “dinner guest.” Unless you are my friend Lia that is, who, oddly, seems to like my children as much as I do. Last Friday, she came over for some minted pea dip (with potato chips…mmmm) and tagliatelle, but spent the first half hour locked into conversation with the girls as they all crafted Papertoy Monsters together from the book she bought them. To the point where I felt bad interrupting them to, you know, catch up with my friend. I should’ve known Lia would show up with a gift that killed. When Abby was at the height of her Hello Kitty obsession, she came with a fleet of Hello Kitty books, calendars, and magnetic dolls. Last year, she arrived with two kids’ umbrellas from Pylones. And as if this isn’t enough, she is almost always armed with Magnolia cupcakes, chocolate chocolate for Phoebe, and assorted for the rest of us. Believe me, this is all any guest ever needs to do to a) win my friendship forever b) warm my heart or c) be invited back. (more…)
[Read more →]
Tags:books for kids·creative gifts for kids·host gifts·hostess gifts for kids·paper dolls
“Who?” Phoebe asked when she heard her parents talking (rather animatedly) about the death of Osama bin Laden.
“Osama bin Laden,” Andy said. “You know? The guy who made those two buildings come down? He’s dead.”
To hear Andy oversimplify the most harrowing day in both of our lives like that made me think that maybe by now we should’ve talked about it with our kids a little more comprehensively. Because to express someone’s death, out-of-context, with even the slightest hint of satisfaction has got to be confusing for a nine-year-old. I was four months pregnant with Phoebe when the towers came down. I spent the day tracking the news of my best friend’s husband Michael, who worked on the 81st floor of the first tower to be struck. He survived by picturing his wife and six-month-old son living their lives without him, as he clawed around in darkness and rubble trying to escape.* How could we expect anyone (let alone a kid) to wrap their head around that one — or any of the other far more traumatic details of the day for that matter? But at the same time, how can it possibly be that neither of my children have any visceral reaction when they walk by our favorite 1997 wedding photograph: Andy and me and all 142 attendees standing on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, the towers gleaming in the sun behind us like two honored guests themselves.
In other words, I was grateful when I saw my friend Claudia’s facebook status update announcing that she had just posted about OBL on her news website for kids Here There Everywhere. Claudia isn’t just someone with a passing interest in the news — she was a producer for the Today show until she became a mom seven years ago (on 9/11, while I was watching the news, she was in a gas mask at Ground Zero helping report the news) but in some ways never left the job. She’d read the headlines to her kids when they were in the bath (calling this “The Bathtub Report”) and later started discussing current events in her son’s second grade class. On the site, Claudia writes to elementary-school-aged students without talking down to them (“The world’s number one bad guy was killed yesterday”) and gives just enough information to spark a kid’s interest. So now, when I’m making dinner and Phoebe asks if she can play on the computer, lately I’ve been going all Joe Kennedy on her (official Kennedy family dinner table policy: If you didn’t talk world affairs, you didn’t talk) and tell her to pick a topic of conversation for the table from HTE. That way, even if we don’t figure out how to explain all the answers, at least we can say we’ve started the conversation.
Illustration is by Catherine Ormaeche and is from the book The Day Our World Changed: Children’s Art of 9/11 (Abrams).
*Andy, who was working at Esquire at the time, somehow convinced Michael to tell his amazing story to the world two months after the attack.
[Read more →]
Tags:claudia david heitler·here there everywhere·news websites for kids·talking to kids about osama bin laden
Now that the girls are getting older and relatively self-sufficient (minus the shoe-tying! Kills me!) it’s easy for me to romanticize the early years. I got a little teary the other day when Andy erased all 3,000 Backyardigans episodes on the DVR to make room for iCarly and American Idol. And carrying Phoebe’s little art table and chairs to the curb outside my house nearly brought me to my knees. But I can tell you one thing I’ll never be sentimental about – traveling with them as babies when they required bottles and pack-n-plays, and snap-n-gos , and breast pumps, and carseats, and crayons and pacifiers that would inevitably get lost or dropped on the airport’s bathroom floor. Traveling has gotten so much easier with the girls — even our bi-annual 13-hour road trip to South Carolina. Thirteen hours! I can’t believe I’m saying this, but packing the car has actually become fun. Here’s what we lined up for the trip. (more…)
[Read more →]
Tags:car activities for kids·car games for kids·road trip activities for kids·road trip with kids
I am so sick of Roald Dahl. It’s not that he isn’t great, or that the depth of his imagination isn’t enough to shame 99% of other novelists that have walked the earth, or that he’s not a first-ballot, absolute lock of a Kid Author Hall of Famer. But enough is enough. For much of the past two years, Abby and I have been reading Roald Dahl books, and nothing else. We started with my old copies of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach, and then we moved on to The Witches and The BFG, which were similarly twisted and inspired, and then we… just… kept… going. (You’re welcome for the extra-sweet royalty checks, Roald Dahl Estate.) We drilled down, never relenting, never coming up for air, journeying deeper and deeper into the warped, kind of misanthropic worldview that our youngest daughter seems to relate to on some primal level. (I’m choosing not to ask why this is.) To mix kid book author metaphors, we fell headlong down the ol’ rabbit hole.
Does it sound like I’m complaining? I don’t mean to. I’m sick of Roald Dahl, but I also love Roald Dahl. I love his sense of humor and the way his plots unfold in such loose, spontaneous, strange ways — exactly the way a plot would unfold if you were just making up a story on the spot — and I love that he wrote so much, as if writing were a switch that, once flipped on, could never ever be turned off, no matter how old he got or how much money, or acclaim, he earned. I love the names Veruca Salt and Fleshlumpeater, Trunchbull and Bloodbottler, Sponge and Spiker. My only quibble is that, when you read nothing but for two years, some of the seams start to show. You can see him, every so often, reaching into his bag of writerly tricks. Some patterns reveal themselves. Seven-year-old girls, though: they adore those patterns and tricks, adore those sputtering grown-ups and invented words and hairy, disgusting moles on wrinkly, disgusting faces and grumpy rhyming poems and the ominousness that always seems to hang over everything, but that never, in the end, completely descends. It’s been quite a run, this Roald Dahl run that Abby and I have been on. I’m glad we did it, but I don’t want to do it again, and I’ll miss it when it’s gone.
Here: the Dahl Canon, as presented by Dahl’s number one fan, Abby. – Andy
“Matilda’s a little girl who loves to read books, but her father and mother don’t want her to read books. They want her to watch TV allllllllll the time. But one day, she feels like, ‘I want to go to school.’ So her mom drops her off at this school, and then she meets a girl who tells her about the principal [scary voice] Mrs. Trunchbull! She’s a really really mean person, and she talks in a really mean way. I can’t describe it. Mrs. Trunchbull’s daughter is Mrs. Honey, but you only find that out at the end. Don’t write that, daddy! You’ll ruin it! This book is about how Matilda has a hard life, but is an amazingly smart girl. It’s for people who are interested in reading. I don’t even want to talk about the movie.”
Grade: 9 (out of 10)
Fantastic Mr. Fox
“This is gonna be hard. I love this book so much. It’s about a fox. A fox who promised his wife he would never steal a chicken or whatever, what was it called? Yeah, a chicken. No no no no no. It’s like a bird? Never mind. But then he secretly goes on a mission to steal chickens with a mole, Kylie, and they have to avoid these three mean farmers, Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. One day, the farmers figure out that the fox is trying to steal their food, so they decide to (more…)
[Read more →]
Tags:books for kids·charlie and the chocolate factory·fantastic mr fox·matilda·roald dahl·roald dahl the witches
I’d like to interrupt the relentless roll-out of pizzas and stews for an important — maybe even obvious — message. A few nights ago I was reading yet another article regurgitating what we probably all know by now about family dinner. This just in: All kinds of great things will happen if you just sit down with your kids to eat dinner. They will bring home straight As, they will be less likely to suffer from depression or eating disorders. They will beg for second helpings of spinach. And, right on cue, the article ended with this line (I’m paraphrasing): “Don’t worry about making a homemade dinner. Have a bowl of healthy whole grain cereal if you have to. It’s not the food that’s important, it’s being together.”
Let me first just say that I of course totally agree with most of this statement. The being-together part, after all, is the whole reason I launched this site. DALS is as much a response to all of us wanting to connect more with our children as it is about those succulent, beautiful eight-minute lamb chops. But if that is all it is about, then there would only be as many posts here as there are brands of nutritious cereal. (Or Trader Joe’s frozen pizzas!) And also, I’m pretty sure we would’ve stopped caring about dinner (cooking it and writing about it) a while ago since a bowl of cereal for dinner is kind of fun if it’s Cereal for Dinner Night. But after too many Cereal For Dinner Nights, it’s just…cereal.
The goal (at least in my house) is to make dinner a ritual, and putting together something that you want to eat — that you are excited to eat — is going to do more for establishing that ritual than just about anything else. If you cook good food, it will build on itself. Your family will look forward to it. You will look forward to it. You will get addicted to eating well and watching your family eat well. (Is it me or do I sound exactly like Amy Chua justifying the self-esteem cycle that results from making your children practice their instruments for three hours a day? You force them to practice, they get better. The better they get the more they want to practice…) Is it essential that you braise an Osso Bucco on a Tuesday night? Of course not! There are all kinds of quick easy recipes on this site that qualify as special. But my point is, I don’t want to dismiss the role of caring about what you cook in this whole equation. The more you care, the more you’ll cook, and the more you cook, the more firmly the family dinner ritual will take hold. It’s probably going to be a long time before my kids recognize in a conscious way that eating a meal with someone who loves them satisfies some deep psychological need. But for now I’m pretty sure they’re psyched to show up just for the noodles. And I don’t have any problem with that.
Thai Chicken with Noodles from Martha Stewart: Killer. Illustration up top is by M. Hafner, from the March 1960 issue of Good Housekeeping.
[Read more →]
Tags:family dinner·how to have family dinner·why family dinner
You’ve heard me mention Momfilter on DALS before, but now I want to officially mention it because as of last week, the site, a lifestyle resource for parents created by two Cookie mag founders Yolanda Edwards and Pilar Guzman, is officially live. I know, I know. There are a lot of websites out there for moms so, why, you ask, should you bookmark this one in particular? Because, as the name promises, you’ll be getting information and inspiration — on everything from food to fashion to books and beauty – that has gone through the Yolanda and Pilar filter. These are the friends who regularly steer me towards the best deals in fashion (for kids and moms); who tell me exactly where to stay and eat when I go to, say, Philadelphia with the kids; who upgraded my guacamole after a single dip (“You need waaaay more salt!”) and my jeans wardrobe after a single glance. (“You need the next size down.”) In other words, you can trust them to tell it to you straight. And you can trust that they’ll always deliver the good stuff. I’ll be chiming in from time to time, too, so please take a look and let them know what you think.
PS: Would you look at this Michal Rubin shot above from their “Remembering” series. Could it be any sweeter?
[Read more →]
Tags:cookie editors website·momfilter·pilar guzman·yolanda edwards
In case you haven’t noticed — it’s awards season! I’d like to thank the Academy for reminding me how remiss I’ve been at following my #1 Get-Fired Resolution. (“See more matinees.”) And to the folks who handed out Michelin stars in France earlier this week — thank you! I can now afford to dream about all the cafes in the Latin Quarter where I might someday dine with my children. I’d also like to express my sincere gratitude to Babble who, through their Top 100 Mom Food Blogs Awards (Please See: #4!!!!) reminded me….there are a lot of Mom Food Bloggers out there. (Wow!) Anyway, all this blue-ribboning made me think — don’t you find it troubling that there’s no higher institution to turn to when, say, you are looking for The Best Movie to Put on For The Kids During a Dinner Party That Would Elicit a What a great choice! From The Parent Dinner Guests? Search no more, the First Annual DALS Awards are here! And are so prestigious that in certain circles — or around certain circular dinner tables — they have already garnered a cool little nickname: “The Dollys!” So with no further ado…
Best Kitchen-themed Coloring Book: Rosie Flo’s Kitchen Colouring Book I first held a Rosie Flo coloring book in my hands when I was an editor at Cookie — and back then, it seemed you could only find one if you were traveling to England during specific months of the year and had an appointment with the Queen herself. Now, thankfully, you can find them anywhere (translation: in Anthropologie or on amazon.) This one is food-themed (can you see the dress made out of a cob of corn? The one made with ladyfingers and measuring cups?) but there are other themes — animals, garden, the original — that are decidedly less girly. The cool thing about them is that they provide sketches of the kooky clothes and accessories and it’s up to the artist to fill in everything else. My brother showed up with this batch of three for Abby’s birthday last year and was instantly anointed hero.
Best Cookbook for Kids That The Kid Actually Likes As Much As Mom: Kids Cook 1-2-3, by Rozanne Gold. If I was still working at Real Simple or Cookie, my normal reconnaissance to determine the winner of an award like this would include ordering in a ton of cookbooks from a ton of publishers, flipping through all of them, page by page, handing out the best of the first cut to staff members with kids who would be required to test and report back. Most of the (more…)
[Read more →]
Tags:best cookbook for kids·creative gifts for kids·cricket magazine·DALS awards·family entertaining ideas·old movies for kids·rosie flo coloring books·rozanne gold·special birthdays for kids·spider magazine·the love bug
I get the feeling, judging by the comments section on certain posts, that family dinner is not always a family affair. That, you know, some of us aren’t so good at pulling our weight. Luckily, there’s a new book — full disclosure: I edited it — that just might help take a little of the resentment out of the equation. Here, to give us a whole new way of thinking about the division of labor around the house (i.e. stop focusing so much on 50/50!) is DALS guest-poster Paula Szuchman, Wall Street Journal editor and co-author, with Jenny Anderson, of Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage & Dirty Dishes. You can also read their excellent and funny blog here. — Andy
My husband and I both cook, and we both loved being cooked for. There are few things more luxurious than lying on the couch after a long day, the smell of sautéed onions wafting through the living room, secure in the knowledge that at any minute, your favorite person is going to walk over and put a plate of food in front of you—and if you’re really lucky, also a glass of wine, a remote control, and license to watch reruns of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills until you pass out.
Others aren’t so lucky. From what I hear, there are plenty of readers of this blog whose spouses don’t cook, can’t cook or never come home on time to cook. You guys are wondering if there’s a secret to reprogramming such spouses. I have two suggestions.
First, accept and overcome. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but let me explain. Each person in a relationship has things he or she does better, relative to other things. So sure, your spouse could fry an egg if someone had a gun to his head, but in terms of skill and efficiency, he’s way better at changing light bulbs. He has what an economist might call the comparative advantage in light-bulb changing. You have the comparative advantage in cooking. (more…)
[Read more →]
Tags:jenny anderson book·paula szuchman book·spousonomics book
I can’t remember ever making this Official Family Policy, but Jenny and I are completely powerless against a kid — our kid — who asks us to buy her a book. (Full disclosure: We love books and are happy to encourage as much reading as possible in our house, but if we’re honest, there’s also an element of self-preservation at work here. I’m in the book business as an editor, and Jenny is in the book business as a writer, and I guess we see this as doing our part to keep the ol’ boat afloat.) I’m not about to revoke this policy, but I can’t pretend it doesn’t have its drawbacks, either: It isn’t cheap with Phoebe around. Her graphic novel and comic book obsession continues apace, and now seems to be infecting her little sister, Abby. We’ve spent many dinners lately — and many car trips, including one to Virginia over the holidays where Abby was so deeply immersed that she ended up actually puking on the book — talking about Raina Telgemeir’s latest book, Smile. The girls seem to connect to this one on some primal level –in no small part because they’ve both racked up crushing dental bills in the past month, and this seems to offer some measure of comfort. We’ll be ordering Raina’s other books within the week, I’m sure. (You’re welcome, Amazon. I could have paid for a semester at Bennington with all the one-clicking I’ve done in the past few years.)
We couldn’t vet all of the following books on our own — I haven’t read a word of some of them, as Phoebe is impossible to keep up with and I have, you know, a life — so it only seems fair to cede the floor to the third grader herself (with some help from her second grade sister, Abby), and let them tell you why they like them. Rankings are from 1 (not good) to 10 (the best ever). I suspect there’s some grade inflation at work here, as always, but these kids are enthusiasts. What can we say?
Smile by Raina Telgemeir ”This is a true story about a girl named Raina who has an overbite and a little bit of gum damage and she knocks her permanent two front teeth out. She goes through a lot of trouble at the dentist and her friends make fun of her. It takes place a long time ago, when the author was little. In the book, she’s in sixth grade. Boys might like this, but it depends on their style.”
Phoebe rating: 10.
Abby rating: 11 (And, yes, that’s out of 10. As Abby says, “I love it because I’m lucky not to have that tooth accident.” This coming from someone who had two molars yanked yesterday.)
Parents note: We realized before it was too late (Abby had already devoured the book 3 times) that there was a page or two of teen talk (body changes, boy crazy girls, etc) that might have been confusing and maybe a tad inappropriate for a seven-year-old. So just be warned.
Lunch Lady by Jarrett J. Krosoczka: “I totally grew out of this last year. But I liked this series. It’s about a lunch lady who is really a superhero but she pretends to be a lunch lady. She has all kinds of cool gadgets and an assistant who makes the gadgets and will go in disguise so she can distract the person they’re fighting. Is it funny? No, not very. But you always want to know what’s happening next. Boys might like it. It’s probably good for seven year olds. On the back of each book, it says, ‘Serving Justice and Serving Lunch.’”
Phoebe rating: 7. (more…)
[Read more →]
Tags:best comic books for kids·comic books·graphic novels for kids
Ever since my friend Liz told me about that documentary Race to Nowhere, I have been panting like a dog at a dinner table waiting for news of a screening in my community. For those of you not familiar with the movie, it was made by a first-time filmmaker, Vicki Abeles, who takes a look at what kind of toll all this overscheduling — i.e. relentless academic and athletic pressure - is taking on our kids. She decided to make the film after her own daughter, then 12 years old, was diagnosed with a stress-induced stomach illness.“I was determined to find out how we had gotten to a place where our family had so little time together,” Abeles told the New York Times last week. “Where our kids were physically sick because of the pressures they were under.” I think I literally licked my lips when I read that quote. This was going to offer some prime family dinner fodder.
Until Sunday, that is. Which was the day we took the girls and a few cousins and friends to the New York City Ballet’s The Nutcracker and where we somehow managed to know someone (Thanks Nick!) who knew someone who knew someone who gave us a backstage tour before the show. The show that is basically synonymous with Holidays in New York. The show that Phoebe has now seen the NYCB perform five times and Abby four. (That includes the time she was asleep before Drosselmeyer even showed up.) The show that is the subject of one of my most formative books from childhood: Jill Krementz’s A Very Young Dancer. And now: I’m thinking of shutting down this site and devoting every shred of my being to making sure my daughters become professional ballerinas like Stephanie in AVYD. I will sacrifice dinner. I will sacrifice my career. I will sacrifice my children’s childhoods and their stressed-out stomachs. Just let me somehow live out my own fantasy of being Stephanie and I won’t ask for anything ever again. Ever.
We didn’t even meet any of the dancers on the tour, but just being able to stand on the storied (surprisingly spongy) stage and look out at the grand jewel box that is Lincoln Center’s David Koch Theater was enough to make me both giddy…and despondent over the realization that neither I, nor my children, will ever be on that stage dancing with a Cavalier. Is it weird that I’m almost 40 yet still felt like I somehow had a shot at this?
I’m going to assume that you guys grew up obsessing over A Very Young Dancer just like me. When I gave it to Phoebe for Christmas in 2004, I remembered every photograph, every facial expression (Stephanie didn’t even look nervous when the stage manager called from a backstage phone to tell her it was showtime!), the way all the young ballerinas stood so beautifully on their toes even when they were doing something as quotidian as fixing their hair. I read the other books in the series (A Very Young Skater…Rider…Gymnast) but none resonated quite like this one.
Who’s so lucky? My daughters with their friends and cousins on stage at Lincoln Center about 45 minutes before the curtain rose. (more…)
[Read more →]
Tags:a very young dancer·backstage at the nutcracker·jill krementz·race to nowhere
It’s hard to wait for Christmas. Why? Because it might just be the only thing in the world kids are forced to wait for. Herewith, a timeline chronicling the demise of excitement, suspense and the simple pleasure of looking forward to something. (First published in Cookie; Text by me; illustrations by Brian Rea.)
[Read more →]
Tags:anna maria tremonti·brian rea·cbc the current·the current
In the console between the front seats of our family vee-hicle is a stack of the CDs we keep on hand to entertain the kids while driving. Most rotate through after a few months, or get thrown out, either because we – the parents – get so incredibly sick of them (see: Thriller, Free to Be), or because they – the kids – never quite warm up to the stuff we’re selling (see: Bettye LaVette and, god, it pains me to say it, Exile on Main Street). There’s one CD, though, that has been with us for four, maybe five, years. It’s all banged up now, and it skips like crazy, and I’m constantly having to breathe on it and buff it with my t-shirt to get it to play at all. It says “Storm King” in red Sharpie across the top, in honor of the beautiful Storm King sculpture garden about an hour north of us, in the Hudson Valley up near West Point, where I took the kids one cold fall morning just after burning this disc. “Storm King” is not a mix, though: this disc contains one album,The Children’s Album, recorded in 1975 by Johnny Cash. Here’s one of those rare records that we can all agree on, pretty much all the way through. We’ve listened to it on road trips, we’ve played it during birthday parties, I’ve even been known to put it when it’s just me, and the dog Iris, changing lightbulbs and emptying the dishwasher on a Saturday afternoon. It’s great, solid music and storytelling – performed by a variety-show-era, leather-jacketed Johnny Cash — and, seriously, what could ever be wrong with that?
It’s also the perfect Thanksgiving playlist. Good for kids, good for parents, good for grandparents, nice and mellow and funny and happy, just the thing to have on in the car on the way there or in the kitchen while you cook and the kids mill about, just the thing to mask the sounds of bickering cousins or cursing cooks or plastic dump trucks being dragged across hardwood floors. I can listen to Johnny Cash any time, and I do, but that voice is particularly suited to fall afternoons, big, messy gatherings, glasses of bourbon, football on the tv. Once your kids are fully on board – do me a favor and play them “Tiger Whitehead” or “Call of the Wild” and tell me they aren’t in love – you can move on to this. — Andy
Related: Graphic novels for kids.
[Read more →]
…to have family dinner: When my kids are 16 and 15 (instead of 8 and 7) and we are dealing with friendship dramas, SATs, sexting episodes, and God only knows what else (Parents of teen-agers: please refrain from telling me what else) dinner will be so firmly established as my family’s 6:30 Magnetic North, that my kids’ hormone-raging, eye-rolling, parent-resenting bodies will be hardwired to come home, sit down, and talk to me anyway. In other words, I will have them right where I want them. (more…)
[Read more →]
Tags:entertaining families·family dinner
I think it’s so awesome when readers come up to me and say “I love your blog. You sound like you have the greatest life.” This conclusion is based on the fact that I regularly…eat porcupine meatballs? That’s a joke, but it’s also kind of serious.
I need to back up for a second. My first job out of college was at a financial consulting firm. The people in my office were very nice (especially my friend Han who called me over to his Sun computer one morning to show me this cool new thing called “The Net”) but I had no idea what I was doing and kept my phone on the “direct-to-voicemail” function all day because I was too nervous to talk to clients. It is a miracle I lasted 14 months there — I hated it. But since I was raised in a certain way (aka TriState Ashkenazi) I was programmed to think of these kinds of jobs (law, medicine, business) as the real jobs. And when you are in a real job, you aren’t necessarily happy all the time. “That’s why it’s called a job,” said one jerky associate (Dartmouth ’92) when I made the mistake of saying that I wasn’t 100% fulfilled compiling Strategic Action Reports for Lazard Freres. (At least I think that’s what I was doing.) I will always remember that conversation, as well as the “informational interview” I had later that year with the mother of a friend of mine who was like the Don Draper of the 80′s. She asked me what made me happy. A lot of things made me happy, but I had just put together a recipe book for my best friend for her birthday (crafted from stolen office supplies!) so I answered “Food.” Ha ha ha. (more…)
[Read more →]
Tags:family dinner·how to have family dinner
Last week I forced myself to put together an iPhoto album from my massive file of summer vacation pictures. I try to do this once a season and enlist the girls help with caption-writing — the final product could rival a John Irving novel for how many exclamation points they make me use – and usually this is all I need to do to feel like I’ve sufficiently locked away the memories for safekeeping. But this time, I added a new album to the mix. It’s a collection of our “car quizzes” (above) which we’ve relied on as road trip boredom busters for the past few years. The quizzes are exactly as they sound: an assortment of multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, or true or false questions about wherever we’re headed or returning from. My initial goal for the 828-mile trip back from South Carolina was to write a straightforward list of 100 things we did on vacation, but the girls, who have a sixth sense for dutiful, linear, decidedly un-fun games, of course refused, instead begging for quiz after quiz after quiz after quiz. It wasn’t until I got home and looked through all the questions that I realized I had a keepsake that was every bit as revealing as a boring old list.
The quizzes reminded me of so many moments that have already been pushed aside to make mental space for less lovely thoughts, such as Don’t Forget to Call the Oral Surgeon. Like the fishing trip (above) where the girls reeled in some sea trout (below). It was so fresh that all Andy had to do to make it memorable was add a little olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon before grilling to perfection.
Needless to say, more than a few questions end up being about food and dinner.
[Read more →]