Sunday, October 31, 2010

It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Growing up, I never attached any special significance to the so-called holiday season.

We didn't celebrate Christmas, and Hanukkah was just another in a string of Jewish holidays that was festive, but not really noteworthy. We would light our menorah, eat our latkes, and get chocolate gelt. A crisp dollar bill or two might arrive in an envelope postmarked Miami Beach. But there was no "official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle." No nights rendered sleepless with anticipation. The Christmas season was mostly special because we got off from school.

The most special time of my year was always...this one. It was the first two weeks of November that I looked forward to. They were positively electric.

Why? Because of Halloween. God, how I loved Halloween. I loved dressing up. I loved trick or treating. I loved giving out candy. I loved eating candy, which was otherwise essentially verboten. I still maintain that the smell of a trick or treat bag -- not the smell of any one particular candy, mind you, but the sweet smell of the mingled wrappers -- is one of the best aromas in the universe. Yankee Candle needs to get on that one. (And noodle kugel, while they're at it.)

But it didn't stop there. November 1st is my brother Eric's birthday. So there would be more celebration. And a Pepperidge Farm layer cake, the Mendelsohn family standard. There's a photo of one of Eric's parties where he's blowing out the candles at the kitchen table and you can see all of our trick or treat bags hanging from the doorknob behind him. Now that I'm a parent, I cringe for my mother, wondering how she managed the collective insanity of five small children completely hopped up on sugar.

November 7th is my brother Andrew's birthday. More celebration. More cake. (You're feeling the frenzy by this point, no?)

And then came the jewel in the crown of my year: November 11th. Why, it's Veterans' Day, for God's sake! Is there any holiday that has a bigger hold on little girls' imaginations?

Just kidding.

I mean, it is Veteran's Day. But it's also my birthday.

And I'm a firm believer that the world can be neatly divided into people who don't make a big deal about their birthdays, and people who do. Count me firmly in the latter group. I take after my friend Maggie, who believes the celebration of one's birthday should extend to the entire month of one's birth. Hear, hear.

I always loved being the birthday girl, having my moment in the sun. Waking to find the kitchen festooned with decorations and presents. Having the day off from school. (That was for the veterans, not me, of course, but it only added to the mystique.) Getting to choose my favorite dinner. And of course, the cake. I've never outgrown my passionate love of birthday cake, though I've long since moved on from Pepperidge Farm. I find it virtually impossible to attend a child's birthday party and pass up a piece of cake -- the more icing, the better. (Read about last year's birthday cake debacle here.)

Even now, the crackle of burnished leaves underfoot and the smell of the air at this time of year makes me incredibly wistful and nostalgic, for a time when Halloween signaled the start of all the magic. You can have all your chestnuts roasting on an open fire and your sleigh bells jingling. Just save a Kit Kat and some birthday cake for me.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Sugar and Spice

UNITED STATES - CIRCA 1950s:  Girls studying tegether.  (Photo by George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images)

I distinctly remember the moment in high school when I realized that every single one of my mother's close friends was a teacher.

Well, to be more precise, it wasn't the moment I realized it, but the moment I realized what it meant.

My mother was a kindergarten teacher, and the fact that virtually all of the adult women I knew were teachers as well -- including every single member of the tight-knit crew with whom my mother had gone to New York's Hunter College -- was just one of those facts that had never merited any special consideration before. It was just something about my world that I had absorbed, like the fact that we were Jewish, or that we lived in the suburbs.

But one day the implications of it finally dawned on me: it wasn't an accident or a coincidence that all of those women were teachers. They all became teachers because there just weren't very many options for women graduating from college in 1952. (Mom also knew a rogue nurse or two, to be fair.)

Perhaps that's why I had always harbored a romantic fascination with the one friend of my mother's who had refused to conform. Sue Slade marched to the beat of her own very distinctive drummer: an honest-to-goodness Bohemian, she became a theater casting agent and even once worked as a secretary for Marlon Brando. Sue eventually wrote a play called Ready When You Are, C.B., which ran for 80 performances on Broadway, directed by theater luminary Joshua Logan. It's still performed in schools and community theater from time to time. Sadly, she committed suicide in 1971, the year she turned 40. I never got to know her.

By the time I graduated from college almost 40 years after my mother and her crew, the idea that women could only be teachers or nurses seemed to me like a quaint relic, something akin to Victrolas and corsets. It had been drummed into my head throughout my childhood (see: Title IX, Free To Be You and Me) that I could be absolutely anything I wanted to be and the fact that I was a girl wouldn't limit me in any way.

I laughed when my first editor after college, after watching me turn around a transcription project at lightning speed, warned me never to let anyone know how fast I could type. It seemed charmingly anachronistic. He was mostly kidding, right? Because no one really thought that way any more, did they?

I'm now the mother of two little boys who have female doctors and female T-ball teammates and a female Senator. Maybe I haven't been watching the messages we're sending little girls these days as vigilantly as I could, but I naively assumed that we were still mostly on the right path. (I do take credit for sending a letter to Nickelodeon four years ago complaining about their sexist marketing of Dora. I loved that my then two-year-old son was a fan of a show with a strong female lead character like Dora. Why did they only make Dora merchandise suitable for little girls? Did they really need to spin off Diego just because he was a boy?)

Which is why I was so disappointed when I opened a recent Land's End catalog and saw this:

See, it turns out that boys and girls "aren't built the same." Girls' coats apparently need to be "pretty & playful" while boys' are "rugged & ready." Really? In 2010? It seemed so ludicrous -- so 1952 -- that I find it incredibly hard to imagine the meeting in which this copy was approved. Did someone think it was an episode of Mad Men, maybe?

Has no one at Land's End heard of Brandi Chastain?

PASADENA, CA - JULY 10:  Brandi Chastain #6 of Team USA removes her jersey while celebrating after kicking the winning penalty shot to win the Final match over Team China during the FIFA Women's World Cup at the Rose Bowl on July 10, 1999 in Pasadena, California. Team USA defeated Team China 5-4 in sudden death after two overtimes. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Or Hillary Clinton, a woman who mounted a completely credible bid to be the President of the United States a mere two years ago?

I was irked, but dropped it. An aberration, I decided.

Until last night, surfing around looking for bunk beds for my boys, I came across this:

Sigh. Need I walk through the litany of misconceptions here, starting with the idea that girls "just wanna have style" and need "sweet" bunk bed designs, while their boy counterparts need "manly" bunk beds that are just as "tough and cool" as they are?

For the record, marketers of the world, I'm perfectly ok if my three- and six-year-old sons sleep in "sweet" beds. They are neither particularly tough nor cool, and I'm fine if things remain that way for a while.

But you know who is tough and cool? And rugged and ready? Their seven year old cousin. In fact, like scores of little girls before her, she recently started trekking regularly to the ice rink with big dreams.

You know. To play hockey.

So take that, Land's End and I'm choosing to believe that Alexandra is the kind of little girl we should be raising in 2010, one who won't fit in the ridiculously outdated stereotypes you're still trying to sell her. And you know what? I bet Sue Slade would be proud.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Irksome: Some Things Me No Likey

Because let's be real. My last post was way too Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms. To make things right, here are 10 Things That Irk, Annoy or Otherwise Make Me Unhappy. With apologies to anyone who read an earlier version of this on Facebook.

1. Any food that's well-done or burnt.

2. Heavy metal music. Also, in the same vein: professional wrestling. Although I did once do a story about Stone Cold Steve Austin.

3. Far too many grammatical and spelling mistakes to catalog. But I'll go with people who say "I could care less," when they mean they couldn't care less. Because that's not bad grammar. It's just stupid.

1953:  American actors Donna Martell and Ross Ford (1923-1988) embrace in a still from director Richard Talmadge's science fiction film, 'Project Moon Base'.  (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

4. Science fiction. The whole damn genre. There, I said it.

5. The default assumption that I wanted mayo on my sandwich, even if I didn't specify. Because I didn't. And while we're at it, bread with caraway seeds. Caraway seeds are the devil. In little Satanic seed form. Or something like that.

6. People in crowded public places (stores, airports, etc.) who don't pay attention to where they're going and back everybody else up with their cluelessness. (See also: entitled highway mergers, non-signaling lane-changers.)

Socialite Nicky Hilton drops by the Christian Louboutin boutique in Beverly Hills, CA on February 3, 2010. Fame Pictures, Inc

7. The popularity of flats and skinny jeans. Whoever is responsible was clearly not thinking of my needs. I cannot rock this look. Trust me.

8. Getting the cuffs of a wool sweater wet, like while washing my hands. Worst. Sensation. Ever. Also, wet socks.

9. TJ Maxx's ridiculous policy of making you put your items on the dressing room hanger so the attendant can count them for you. Even when it's clear you only have one item. Or, more broadly, any unnecessary, officious formality. Inefficiency, generally speaking, drives me bonkers.

FILLMORE, CA - JANUARY 17:  A lemon hangs on a tree at sunrise after another night of cold weather on January 17, 2007 near Fillmore, California. Because record-setting cold temperatures have destroyed an estimated 70 percent of California?s citrus crop. Ventura County is counted among ten that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared disasters, with hopes of receiving federal emergency assistance for hard-hit farmers.  (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

10. Lemon desserts. Why anyone would bother with lemon when there's chocolate to be had is one of life's great mysteries.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Girls in White Dresses With Blue Satin Sashes

It's been a month since I last blogged, and I thought it was time for a jump start. So I'm taking inspiration from Lisa Bonchek Adams, who was inspired by Kathleen Nolan, to share a list of ten favorite things.

And here they are, in random order. And with the requisite amount of anxiety that these are not necessarily my ten very favorite things. I will try not to make them all about food.

380020 01: A tree in Minuteman National Park begins to show it''s colors October 10, 2000 in Concord MA. Regional forecasters say due to New England''s unusually wet summer, the fall foliage season may be the most colorful in rencent years. Photo by Darren McCollester/Newsmakers

1. Fall: If there is cider, a pumpkin, gourds, Indian corn, or any variety of hay-related fun (see: mazes, rides) to be had, I am there. With bells on. During college I was once invited to a professor's home for dinner on a chilly November evening. His wife was a potter, and we were served individual pumpkin custards in handmade ramekins. I almost wept with joy.

2. The post-beach shower: In the panoply of human sensation, I would argue that there are few that can top this one. Not the shower itself, necessarily, but the way you feel when it's over. I love the way you go from being sand-caked and sticky with sunscreen and slightly sweaty to having your skin feel taut and smooth and warm in that gorgeous sun-drenched way. I love the way your hair feels wet and cool and sweet-smelling. As a corollary, I love emerging from the post-beach shower and putting on a soft cotton tee shirt and old jeans.

3. Cheap flowers: The salary at my very first job was $21,500. And that was just last year. OK, not really. But suffice it to say I've had...lean times. Yet even during the very leanest, I've always let myself splurge on the $5 bouquet from the farmer's market or grocery store. They literally make me happier every time I look at them, especially the fall ones with those fuzzy crimson flowers I don't know the name of coxcomb. I'm a cheap date.

4. Savory/sweet mashups: I like to mix it up. One of my favorite appetizers is prosciutto and parmesan cheese wrapped around a dried fig and drizzled with olive oil. I make a mean Cuban picadillo, a spicy beef chili seasoned with cinnamon and cloves and studded with raisins and green olives. And don't tell Bubbe, but my brisket has dried cranberries in it.

5. Kids in pajamas: Something about the act of putting on pajamas rockets the cuteness level of all children to the stratosphere, especially if there are feet involved. Pajamas just scream...childhood and innocence to me. It's why I have a photo on my mantle of me and two of my brothers, circa 1971, all of us pajama-clad. My brothers are in the old-fashioned kind with lapels and buttons, the kind old men wear. (See also: leather slippers.) I mean, is there anything sweeter? I think part of it is the word. Pajamas. It's just inherently cute.

6. Sunday mornings: Ideally: Bagels and coffee and the New York Times, with classical music playing. (That sounds like an awful cliche, but it's actually exactly how I grew up, with my parents finishing the magazine crossword puzzle just in time for Sunday night Chinese.) I love everything about Sundays: brunch food, the Target circular, trips to the Farmers' Market. It's all good.

7. Blizzards/blackouts, et al: While I can't recommend having a child with a stomach bug during a blizzard, as we did earlier this year (because you know what they say: nothing spells fun like having a vomiting two year old in a dark, cold house where you can't do any laundry!), I love the slightly out-of-time feeling that events like this have. The idea that the everyday rules are suspended for just a while. The way people come out of their homes and gather in the street to compare notes, and someone invites you over for an impromptu spaghetti dinner. The way that, as you dig out your driveway, you feel compelled to say hello to everyone who passes by, although the same people could pass by on any other day and you wouldn't say so much as a word to them. I don't know that we ever talked about it, but I found out that my brother Eric feels the same way; the seminal event in his debut feature film is an eclipse. Watch Madeline Kahn walk the darkened daytime streets pretending to be a "moon explorer" and you'll know what we mean.

CULVER CITY, CA - SEPTEMBER 08: A cup of Caff Macchiato is made at The Conservatory Coffee, Tea, and Cocoa, a family owned roasting coffeehouse on September 8, 2010 in Culver City, California. On Wednesday, the price of coffee hit a 13-year high. The price has risen 43 percent since June. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

8. Non-morning coffee: I am, like most of the adult world, a morning coffee addict. Can't function without. But I have a special fondness for coffee at other times of day. While I've usually had too much already to join her, I love that my friend Max always orders a cup of coffee with lunch. I adore the 4 p.m. pick-me-up latte. And while I know the Italians look in horror upon us Americans and our ridiculous coffee abominations, I love a cappuccino with dessert. Bonus points to anyone who says they want to meet me for "a coffee" as opposed to "coffee." Can't explain why, but I love that.

9. Maps. And not even fancy, beautiful vintage maps, though I love those too. I could pore over the pages of the Rand McNally road atlas for hours, just thinking about what goes where. I have no idea why I associate the two things, but I also love old-fashioned keys.

10. Anything with that dry, crumbly shortbread-ish consistency. Scones? Check. Cobbler? Yes indeed-y. Hamentaschen? You betcha. (This is actually about my love of butter, I think. Right?) Update: I forgot biscuits. And cornbread. Yum.

Want to do a favorite things post? Let us see!

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Plug

I sometimes think I would have made a good publicist.

When I get excited about something -- a musical artist, a movie, a book -- the urge to share what I'm excited about is kind of uncontrollable. (Cut to Jennifer, circa 2000, forcing virtually everyone who crossed the threshold of her Dupont Circle apartment to watch this Nickel Creek video. Or Jennifer, earlier this year, randomly calling friends to tell them to read this stunning book. Or Jennifer, phone in hand, frantically dialing her brother Matt every time there's a particularly great Roz Chast cartoon in the New Yorker. And don't even get me started on my love for this new blog that skewers furniture catalogs, which I've been pimping incessantly on Facebook and Twitter.)

When the something in question is the product of a someone that I actually know and care about, that urge to share is ratcheted up to astronomical proportions. I'm sure my closest friends must wince a little every time there's a new creative project from one of my brothers, envisioning the barrage of e-mails and Facebook and blog posts that will soon issue forth from me. (Did you know Eric's film is going to the Deauville Film Festival? It is! But I digress.)

So today I'm happy to finally end my blog's embarrassingly long dormant period by sharing something I'm very excited about. And it's the product of someone I know, at least virtually. So be prepared for enthusiasm of the astronomical variety.

A little over a year ago, I stumbled onto a blog called Flotsam, and immediately fell hopelessly in writer love with the rapier wit and warm heart of Alexa Stevenson. I think she roped me in with this post, and this one, in which she provides commentary on the search terms that lead people to her blog. I spit beverages clear onto my computer screen. But Alexa wasn't just funny. She was frighteningly well-read, and thoughtful, and whip smart, and emotionally poised far beyond her years. At some point I wrote Alexa a fawning fan letter. (I think the subject may have actually been "Fawning Fan Letter.") At some point she wrote me back, and we struck up a virtual acquaintanceship.

Not long after I began to read Alexa's blog, she let on that she had landed an agent, and soon thereafter that she had a (well-deserved!) book deal.

Tomorrow marks the official pub date for Alexa's first book, Half Baked: The Story of My Nerves, My Newborn and How We Both Learned to Breathe, which I have just finished reading. In hopes of saving myself the trouble of having to call each of you individually to urge you to read it, I am going to try to cover myself with a single blog post.

Half Baked is a memoir, the story of how Alexa went through infertility treatment and became pregnant with twins through IVF. It's the story of how her son, Ames, died without warning in utero at 22 weeks, and how his sister Simone was born just three weeks later -- a full 15 weeks before her due date -- weighing one pound eleven ounces. (Babies the size of her newborn daughter, she writes, are "nearly impossible to describe without resorting to size comparisons involving produce and small mammals.") It's the story of the harrowing three months Simone spent in the NICU. And it's the story of how weathering a real, honest-to-goodness catastrophe proved -- rather ironically --to be the one thing able to quell Alexa's lifelong anxiety.

Alexa is one of those writers in whose skilled hands I would listen, rapt with attention, to the story of how, say, she went to Jiffy Lube for an oil change, or tried a completely unfamiliar brand of toothpaste. The fact that she has such a moving one to tell, and that she tells it with humor and grace and candor but never resorts to treacle, is just gravy.

Much like her blog, Half Baked is uproariously, side-splittingly funny. (You know, the kind of funny where you're constantly having to read passages to your spouse because you're laughing in bed so much.) She quite literally had me laughing out loud by the second page, in which she discusses why fireworks belonged on a list of things she found "insupportably risky" as a child:

"partly because of an episode of Lassie in which Timmy befriended a boy blinded by a firecracker, and party because of my oft-stated maxim that while suicide bombers or errant landmines may be beyond our control, surely choosing not to detonate explosives for sport is a small, sensible measure we can all take to prolong our time on earth."
Alexa had me at hello. But she never disappoints. She describes her fertility medications as "suspiciously nondescript for agents of reproduction...I would have liked a little drama, say in the form of trumpets that sounded when you popped the plastic cap: dun duh-da DAAAH!" She calls the delicate dance of embryos implanting "terribly dramatic, like a tiny pelvic James Bond movie." By the time she recalls the whirlwind of her emergency C-section ("I was...briefed by an anesthesiologist who read the consent form so rapidly that at the end I half expected him to shout 'SOLD! One C-section to the lady in the hospital johnny!") and her later concern about finally bringing Simone home to her apartment, "where the nurse-to-neonate ratio is suboptimal (0-1)," I was putty in her hands.

There's a feeling I get every time I go to see David Sedaris read, and it's a feeling I can best describe as... satisfaction. I love hearing him, but my enjoyment derives in part from doing so in rooms filled with lots and lots of other people who feel the same way. It makes me enormously satisfied to know that David Sedaris is a best-selling author, not just someone's strange cousin David, an acerbic widget salesman who writes odd essays that nobody in the family quite gets. It may sound trite, but it really just makes me enormously happy -- relieved, even -- that he's found such a wildly appreciative audience for his voice.

In much the same way, I'm so pleased that I'm clearly not alone in my admiration for Alexa Stevenson's writing. I'm so genuinely thrilled that she has this amazing opportunity to be read even more widely than she already is. I believe she is a major new talent, and I want to virtually buttonhole all of you to pay attention and make her book the smashing, rollicking success it deserves to be.

So buy yourself a copy of Alexa's book won't you? Come on! Best $10.17 you'll spend this year, I promise.

And while the blasted book tour powers-that-be are cruelly keeping her from the east coast, denying me the chance to stalk meet her in person, those of you who live in the middle and western parts of our fair nation are lucky enough to have the chance to support Alexa on her book tour. So go hear her read. Tell her I sent you! (And bring her a sidecar. She likes them.)

  • St. Paul, MN
    @ Common Good Books
    11 Aug 2010 19:30

  • Chicago, IL
    @ Women and Children First Books
    12 Aug 2010 19:30

  • San Francisco, CA
    @ Book Passage
    17 Aug 2010 18:00

  • Portland, OR
    @ Annie Bloom's Books
    18 Aug 2010 19:30

  • Seattle, WA
    @ University Bookstore
    19 Aug 2010 19:00

  • UPDATE 8/11/10: Charming Q and A with Alexa here, from Twin Cities Metro Magazine.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010

    Crystal Ball

    I don't want to alarm anyone, but I feel as though I have suddenly been given the ability to see into the future.

    Because though it isn't even technically summer yet, I have a very strong premonition that I know exactly what this summer is going to look like.

    There will be a lot of dining al fresco.

    And dancing. Flippers optional.

    There will be frolicking.

    Followed by serious loafing.

    There will be some of this.

    And this.

    And there will, without a doubt, be a lot of this.

    Oh yes. Especially a lot of that. Happy Summer, everyone.

    Wednesday, May 26, 2010

    (Close To) Wordless Wednesday: The Reader

    I love those moments where your perspective shifts and you can see yourself in your child's shoes, when you can remember what it felt like to be a kid, right down to what it sounded and smelled like. (Cicadas and onion grass do it for me, every time.)

    And while it goes without saying that I love that Ethan seems to have inherited my voracious appetite for reading, I love it even more that completely of his own accord, he found this little spot on a tree stump next to our garage and has made it his de facto reading corner. Eyjafjallajokull could erupt over the house next door and he would stay rooted to that very spot, riveted and entranced by the words on the page.

    I remember doing the same exact thing.

    Sunday, May 2, 2010

    Paging Mr. Saluba? Henry Saluba?

    One of the reasons I love my friend Ilise so much is that we were rather frighteningly similar (and, ok, weird) children. (Speaking of Ilise, she recently contributed one of my favorite entries for the Overheard blog. Where's yours? Huh? Huh?)

    Anyway, while my third grade self was busy pretending to run a school for international child prodigies from my bedroom -- What? You mean you didn't do the same?? With files on all the students?? -- Ilise had a project of her own. She took her mother's address book and added her own entries to its pages. So when Ilise's mother got to the letter "S," she found, in little girl scrawl, a listing for one of her daughter's imaginary friends:

    Saluba, Henry

    Just saying the name Henry Saluba -- or even better, Saluba, Henry, just as Ilise wrote it -- still makes me laugh out loud. There's just something so perfect about the name itself: the way it's precisely the kind of slightly off-kilter, not-quite-real-sounding name that a nine year old girl would make up, probably thinking it seemed perfectly legitimate and grown up. For me, Henry's name has become a kind of easy shorthand for that beautiful creative spirit kids have in spades. It speaks of a time when imagination is so powerful it's almost palpable, when there's absolutely no limit to who or what you can invent. There's something a little wistful about his name for me, too. It makes me ache for the way childhood homes felt on quiet days, when the grownup world droned, Charlie Brown-style, at the peripheries, and you lolled around looking for something to do or someone to keep you company. It's the very same feeling I get, by the way, every time I read my boys Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day. (I'm reminded, too, of one of my favorite magazine pieces of all time: Adam Gopnik's "Bumping Into Mr. Ravioli," about the imaginary friend who was always too overscheduled to play with Gopnik's three year old daughter.)

    All of which will explain why I found the project Ethan undertook yesterday so hilariously adorable.

    He chose 23 of his Thomas trains, drew an elaborate chart on orange construction paper in which he made up last names for all of them, and then...made them all compete on American Idol. (Think of it as an international school for child prodigies. When *I'm* your mother.)

    I was drafted into playing Ryan Seacrest and announcing each contestant, after a carefully scripted cue from Ethan. And here, America, are your top 12:

    Thomas Starf
    Duncan Fairbo
    Toby Hedrot
    Harold Herdo
    Freddie Helno (and his cousin, Marvin Wewontgo?)
    Byron Birtonsot
    Harvey Hyrton
    Arry Artiono (Wasn't he on the Sopranos?)
    Proteus Flatbert
    Toby Tenrent
    Salty Harborn (who I'm pretty sure is a porn star)
    and my favorite, Rheneas Flart

    I have no idea who was in the engines' bottom three. But I heard that Henry Saluba is the mentor next week.
    Hey! Isn't that Thomas Starf?

    Is there a Henry Saluba story from your childhood? Let's hear it!

    Friday, April 23, 2010

    In Which We Pause for Some Housekeeping

    Just wanted to keep you up to date on the latest happenings in my world.

    Because what the world really needs is...another blog, I started one.

    It's called "Overheard: The Blog of Overheard Conversation." And I was about to write a little description of it, but if you can't figure it out from the title, then, well, whatever. Please check it out. And talk it up!

    And because I know in today's world you're nothing -- nothing -- unless you have a Facebook Fan Page, I created one for Overheard. And then I thought, 'Well, while I'm at it...' So I created one for this blog as well.

    Please shower them both with love.


    Wednesday, April 21, 2010

    Our Long National Nightmare is...Urban

    Let the record reflect that last year I was a really good American Idol blogger.

    I didn't miss a week, and, if I do say so myself, my predictions were impressively accurate. You say you had no idea Kris "Davey" Allen would upset the unstoppable Adam "Goliath" Lambert in the finale? Well, you should have been reading my blog!

    This year? Not so much. The beginning of Season 9 correlated almost exactly with my going back to work. While of course I've been watching, I've barely had time to blog and have instead been sharing most of my Idol wisdom on Twitter.

    Which means that I haven't yet had an opportunity to address the blight on our nation that is Tim Urban.

    Fox's Meet The Top 12 American Idol Finalists Event - Arrivals

    Oh, Tim, Tim, Tim.

    I'm well aware that USA Today's Brian Mansfield actually sketched out a scenario where you would win. And I know my good friend Amy, my Idol Yoda, has got your back.

    But I do not.

    Especially after last night, when my five year old son watched your performance and declared with a sigh that your songs make him feel -- and I quote -- "dreamy."

    Now Tim. I don't know what sort of weird, Zac Efronish alien spell you have cast over our fair land, turning us all into moony-eyed Hanson fans, but I need you to stop. You are not good enough to win American Idol. Your singing is good enough to get you...laid in college. (And frequently! I promise.) But you are so out of your depth it's not even funny -- or maybe it is? -- watching you compete each week against Crystal Bowersox and Lee DeWyze (who I mistakenly called an "almost and nearly" in an earlier post, but who is clearly gunning for the finale) and Michael Lynche. (Yes, I like Michael Lynche. Deal with it. Although I've fallen off the Siobhan bandwagon totally.) You are just Sanjaya, minus the faux hawk. You are just John Stevens, minus the Sinatra fetish. And just as was the case with them, the forces of good will triumph and soon send you home. This I know in my heart.

    So let me reiterate: You will not win. You should not win. You cannot win. So please, stop the insanity. And give my son his dignity back.

    Friday, March 26, 2010

    Small Packages

    The other morning, I took Ethan on a little adventure to Barnes and Noble.

    We happened to arrive just before a scheduled story time. Great! I thought. What perfect timing!

    Unfortunately, story time was aimed at two and three year olds. My kindergartener listened, skeptically, to about three minutes of the cutesy wootsy story and song about ducks and then mortified me by announcing, quite loudly, "THIS IS SO STUPID!" So much for that outing, right?

    But something else happened while we were there, something that left an impression on me.

    There was an arrestingly adorable boy running around the aisles -- a bright-eyed little towhead named Andrew. He was 19 months old. I know that because I overheard his mother answer a stranger's question. And then I heard the familiar pause, and the apologetic follow-up. "He's just very small for his age."

    Oh man, have I been there. My heart sank, reflexively.

    I used to say the same thing. Every time. And I still do occasionally, when I can see people looking askance at my tiny son, who at five-and-a-half weighs 33 pounds sopping wet and stands a mighty three foot-four. We used to joke that he was going to drive rear-facing. I know what it feels like to have your husband accidentally dress your almost-four year old in his nine-month-old brother's shorts. And have them fit.

    Oh my! said a well-meaning mother at the pool last summer, eying my two boys, who are almost exactly three years apart. You sure had them close together, didn't you?

    Well, no. I didn't actually. Not at all.

    Ethan has always been small. He was born small -- a few ounces shy of six pounds -- at 38 weeks, due to a somewhat mysterious condition called "IUGR," or intra-uterine growth restriction. Getting him to grow during his first few years was torturous. I held my breath at every weigh-in and familiarized myself with every weight gain trick in the book. One handout from his doctor's office read like some sort of diet parody. "Never eat vegetables plain!" it warns ominously. "Add butter, margarine, cream sauce, hollandaise, cheese sauce, salad dressings, sour cream and mayonnaise." (Not all at once, I hope.) "Plain crackers should have cream cheese, cheese spread, peanut butter, jelly, or margarine to increase calories," it goes on. It recommends canned fruit in heavy syrup over fresh. And my personal favorite, "Choose meats breaded, fried and sauteed in oil or butter." Well, who wouldn't? (There's also a recipe for a chocolate peanut butter milkshake that has -- I kid you not -- 1070 calories a cup. And that's seen as a good thing.)
    I never realized, though, that having a child of Ethan's size carries its own unspoken stigma in Momville, where small babies are often viewed as second class citizens. On the mothers' message board I used to frequent, it was standard practice to return from well visits and post your baby's "stats." And though few might admit it aloud, ironically, in a culture where thinness is obsessively prized by adults, when it comes to babies, bigger is most definitely seen as better. "Isabella is in the 95th percentile for weight AGAIN," a mother might crow. Those damned percentiles were seen as scores, as if a baby deemed to be in the 90th percentile for weight was somehow being given a higher grade than one in the 30th. The mothers of babies who were "only" in the 50th percentile or less often posted nervously about what could be wrong with their children. It was hard not to feel defensive, or make self-mocking jokes about our featherweights. My son finally hit 20 pounds at his two year well check. Is there such a thing as a 20 pound two year old?, I asked the pediatrician, only half kidding. He finally debuted on the weight charts -- hello first percentile! -- some time last year.

    I know where this comes from, of course. Whether nursed or fed formula, our babies' size can feel like the one tangible, measurable manifestation of our parenting, especially in the first few months of life, when they bring so little else to the table. (Think about it: Why do we put newborns' weight and length on their birth announcements? Um, because there's nothing else to say about them?) Those that grow big and, well, fat, are clearly doing fine, their little plump bodies a literal reflection of their health. And those like Ethan? Their charts are stamped with the gloomy "failure to thrive" label, with all the implications therein.

    I watched with great interest, as both a mother and a journalist who's written a great deal on science and health, as the doctors walked the fine line between "He's just small" and "There's something amiss." We tried desperately not to intervene unless it was truly warranted. But one test led to another and another. Poor little -- literally -- Ethan was poked and prodded and schlepped to myriad doctors, one all the way in Philadelphia. At 14 months, after an endoscopy suggested he might have a rare form of food allergy, Ethan was put on a so-called "elemental" diet. For two months, he wasn't allowed to eat or drink anything -- nothing -- but a foul-smelling prescription formula. We propped him in his high chair that Thanksgiving with books and toys, hoping he might not notice the feast he couldn't take part in. For one horrific week I have mostly blocked out of my memory, he had a feeding tube in his nose. Until Dr. Bob Wood, the brilliant guru of pediatric food allergies at Johns Hopkins, stopped the madness. "There are only so many ways you can torture an essentially healthy child," Dr. Wood told us in his measured, reassuring tones. "There's nothing wrong with him."
    So in our case, it was all a bad dream. Though he continues to be monitored by doctors we trust, the current feeling is that Ethan is perfectly healthy. He's just...small and thin. Like lots of kids. Like lots of adults. It's nothing for us to be ashamed of. Or apologize for. Or feel the need to explain to random strangers who ask how old he is at the bookstore or the pool. The vessel my amazing, precious son came in is just...small. Not bad. Or diminished. Or lesser. Just small. He's anything but failing to thrive in the things that matter. In fact, I could fill this space with nothing but a record of his breathtaking achievements, the things he can do so effortlessly that belie both his size and his age. But then I would really be breaking a mom rule.
    Saccharine aphorisms are hardly my strong suit, but there is one I repeat over and over, like a mantra.

    When it comes to Ethan, I always say, we like to focus on the things about him that are big: his heart and his brain.

    I shared that thought with Andrew's mom at Barnes and Noble the other morning. I hope one day four years from now, she'll hear another mom defensively explain that her son is small for his age. And she'll pass it on.

    Photo by Matt Mendelsohn
    Click to see it full-size

    Wednesday, March 24, 2010

    And Now Back to our Regularly Scheduled Programming...

    I was all set to kick off my Idol blogging season with a report about Idol fashion. I've long been mesmerized by watching the contestants' transformations, from the awkward (but in a folsky, organic kind of way) mall-clad hopefuls we see during the auditions to the awkward (but in a overly stylized, totally unnatural kind of way) creatures we see during the competition. What exactly is the Idol stylists' aesthetic? I've never quite been able to pin it down.

    But just my luck, last night was actually a major disappointment in that regard. Most of the contestants looked -- dare I say -- almost normal? Nice, even? Until we got to Siobhan, that is. During the Miley Cyrus segment, she looked like something out of a teen movie. You know the one I'm talking about. The painfully geeky misfit with a heart of gold (oversized glasses, circa 1983? Check!) gets invited to the movies with the alpha girl cheerleaders. Thrilled beyond words, she puts on the coolest outfit she can think of (My pink jacket! My big necklace! My acid washed jeans!), only to discover that the whole thing was a set up: they only invited her as a goof, to ridicule her. But of course, she then turns out to be telekinetic and douses them all with pigs' blood or something.

    "Is she on drugs?" my husband asked, completely seriously, while watching Siobhan be "mentored" by Miley Cyrus. (For the record, he also asked "Who is she?" when Miley got out of her car. And then, "Why isn't she wearing pants?")

    And then, because we never do know what to expect, either vocally or fashion-wise, from our friendly neighborhood glass blower, Siobhan channeled what appeared to be...a mid-80s Sheena Easton during her performance. What exactly was going on with the hair, pray tell?

    OK, so now that that's out of the way, I have a terrible confession.

    All these seasons of Idol watching have left me impatient. I've suddenly lost my taste for watching the heretofore fascinating winnowing process by which our field of 12 is narrowed to a handful of serious contenders and then, finally, to one winner, be it one of the Kelly Clarkson/Carrie Underwood variety or one of the Ruben Studdard/Taylor Hicks variety. I have...Idol fatigue. I just want to get on with it. Meaning right now I have no patience for watching even one more week of the contestants we already know have absolutely zero chance of winning. I just don't have it in me. That means you, Tim "Totally Out of My League" Urban. And you, Andrew "Peaked Too Soon" Garcia. And you, Katie "Give it Four Years" Stevens. And you, Paige "There's Nothing Really Noteworthy About Paige Except Her Very Beautiful Eyes, Which Is Exactly Her Problem" Miles. Oh, and speaking of the 80s? It is my duty to mention how badly Paige stunk up the joint last night, with a Phil Collins song with which I never miss an opportunity to torment my friend Steven, who was a -- how shall we say? -- big fan of it when we were in 11th grade. I even requested it at his wedding. But alas, the band didn't know it.

    I mean, can we just stop the charade already? It's very clear already who the serious talents are here: Crystal Bowersox. Michael Lynche. And, of course, Crazy Eyes Killah Siobhan, although interestingly, Dial Idol seems to indicate she doesn't have much of a fan base. It's also clear who the almosts and nearlies will be: Scruffy McMuffin Lee DeWyze and Didi "Brooke White 2.0" Benami. (Who's a Sabra! Who knew?!) And then there are those who seem certain to secure a solid place in the pantheon that includes luminaries like Kevin Covais and Anwar Robinson: Aaron Kelly, who my friend Amy and I have just taken to calling "that creepy 16 year old boy." And Casey James, who, given the thousands of fantastic songs that have graced the top of the Hot 100 chart, went with...a 1985 Huey Lewis song. Need we say more? (Husband's comment: "Nobody will be talking about that at work tomorrow.")

    He's absolutely right. Just wake me in six weeks, will you?

    Tuesday, March 16, 2010

    About That New York Times Piece...

    I am someone who reads blogs. I love blogs. I was once so moved by the words I read on a blog that I sent a gift to a total stranger who'd suffered an unspeakably cruel loss. I have already pre-ordered my copy of Half-Baked, by the ferociously talented Alexa Stevenson of Flotsam. And I think that Ask Moxie's infant sleep advice is smarter than all the books of Drs. Weissbluth, Karp and Ferber combined. Obviously, I, too, am a mother with a blog, albeit one I post in erratically, and one whose biggest claim to fame until now is that it was the most popular blog at my parents' split level on Long Island.

    What I am first and foremost is a storyteller. For almost 20 years, I've had the privilege of dropping into other people's lives and telling their stories, in books and newspapers and magazines. My Sunday Styles piece in the New York Times was a story about an interesting world that many Times readers had no idea existed: a world where hundreds of women are so serious about blogging that they would take a day out of their lives (and even plane fare and the cost of a hotel room for some) to actually take a seminar on how be better at it. And while bloggers themselves know that some of their peers are actually making money by blogging, that many are trying to "brand" themselves, and that major corporations and PR firms are taking notice, many non-bloggers still do not. I didn't know that until not too long ago. That's interesting. That's news.

    Mine was not the first story about bloggers, nor will it be the last. It did not touch upon every amazing, transformative and innovative thing going on in the blogosphere. It was a window into a particular slice of life, and gestured to what that slice suggested about the larger community: that mom bloggers had evolved into a "cultural force to be reckoned with." That women "live online" these days and that bloggers are actually the new go-to parenting experts. That blogging had "opened up a whole new world" for some, who felt "empowered" by their new connections to corporate America. I mentioned that there is concern that some bloggers may have gotten caught up in the influx of giveaways and sponsored posts and swag because there is. And that's one part of the story I was telling.

    The tone of the piece was light. That's because this was a Styles piece about a cultural trend, not an inquiry into the minutiae of the sub-prime mortgage crisis for the Economist. (If readers disagree with the placement of the piece, they should let the editors of the Times know.)

    And here comes my shocking confession: Bloggy Boot Camp seemed like fun. The bare feet? The sippy cups? As a journalist, those are precisely the kinds of textual details that convey a scene to a reader. I included those details because personally, I found them charming, the very thing that made the mood at Boot Camp so unique and fun and, yes, girly. Tiffany Romero was warm and hilarious and clearly very passionate and savvy about social media. I thank her and everyone at Boot Camp for allowing me to observe and talk to them. My intent was never to vilify or belittle Tiffany, SITS, Boot Camp or the world of mom blogs at large. And I'm genuinely saddened that that intent, and my professionalism, could somehow be so grievously misconstrued and called into question by some within the blogging community.

    The ferocity and scope of the response within the blogosphere to this single newspaper article suggests to me that there's a bigger story out there, a story that apparently very much still needs to be told. Ultimately, I hope the exposure in the Times and the resulting dialogue will allow both bloggers and journalists to move forward towards getting to the bottom of that story.

    Finally, I'm well aware that many readers reacted strongly to the headline and the graphic. I saw neither of them before the story ran and while I suspect they were meant to be humorous, I'm sorry they've turned into such a lightning rod. In the meantime, I can say with certainty that the only children who have ever been neglected due to their mother's blog are my own, who I've barely had a moment for since the story was posted. I think they've watched Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs approximately 250 times. I hope you'll understand.

    Disclaimer: In this post, I am speaking as a blogger and freelance journalist, not on behalf of the New York Times.

    Monday, March 8, 2010

    American Idol: The Drinking Game

    So I'm a little obsessed with American Idol.

    I used to sweat my picks in my weekly Idol pool as if the well-being of the entire western hemisphere rested on whether Mandisa or Kellie Pickler was going home. (Knock it all you want, but I did come in second one year.) When the pool ended, I needed an outlet, so I began to grace this space with my trenchant blog posts about Season Eight. Did anyone read them? Not really. But I had fun.

    In one of my, um, less stellar moments as a mother, I allowed my then-three-year-old son to watch a little too much of Season Seven. And then I shamelessly exploited him shared his adorableness on You Tube.

    But lest you think that eight seasons of attentive Idol watching (I missed the first one; I think I was too busy planning my wedding? Or was that the first season of The Bachelor?) have all been for naught, I give you this, people. Something tangible. Proof that I've been paying attention. You can thank me later.

    The Totally Un-Official Clever Title TK American Idol Drinking Game

    Drink Once Every Time...

    • Randy uses the phrase, "You can really sing!" (Drink twice for "Dude, you can really sing!")
    • Randy says someone has a "[insertartistnamehere] vibe jumping off."
    • Randy says a song or an artist is one of his all-time favorites. (I mean, for real. The man says this about everything.)
    • Randy seems uncomfortable having to go first, and gives a review that could sort of go either way, as if he's waiting to see what every one else thought before staking a claim.
    • Randy calls a performance "dope" or "hot."
    • Randy says, "You know I'm a fan, right?"
    • Randy calls anyone "dawg."
    • Randy says, "I don't know. It was just aw-ight for me."

    Drink Once Every Time...
    • Kara references another contemporary artist that the contestant should have covered, but mostly just shows how much Kara knows about other contemporary artists. ("You could have done Adele, or Duffy, or Lily Allen...")
    • Kara uses the phrase "changing it up."
    • Kara references the singer's tone.
    • Kara calls someone "sweetie" when she's being critical.
    • Kara uses the word "artistry."

    Drink Once Every Time...
    • Simon calls a performance "cabaret."
    • Simon calls a performance "indulgent."
    • Simon uses the phrase "complete and utter" (Drink twice for "complete and utter mess.")
    • Simon says, "If I'm being honest with you..." (So is he just bullshitting us the rest of the time?)
    • Simon calls a performance "forgettable."
    • Simon likens the performance to something he could have seen in a hotel bar.
    • Simon predicts the contestant won't be coming back next week. (Drink twice if he somehow cleverly links this prediction to the lyrics of the song. Drink three times if Simon predicts the contestant is the winner.)
    • Simon accuses the singer of shouting or shrieking.
    American Idol Grand Finale Broadcast

    Drink Once Every Time...
    • Paula says something completely incomprehensible. Oh wait. Paula's not on the show anymore.
    • Ellen wears a tie.
    • Ellen comments on the contestant's "look."
    (We're thin on Ellen, obviously, because she's yet to show us her go-to phrases. So, just drink every time you see Ellen, 'k?)

    Drink Once Every Time
    • Any of the judges congratulates a contestant for knowing exactly who they are.
    • Any of the judges scolds a contestant for "not knowing what kind of artist they want to be."
    • Any of the judges says a song was too big for someone.
    • Any of the judges lauds a contestant for making a song "their own"
    • Any of the judges criticizes a contestant for not making a song "their own."
    • Any of the judges belittles a performance as "karaoke."

    You should now be totally drunk. Which is probably the best way to watch Idol anyway.

    What about you? Got anything to add? Let's hear it!

    Tuesday, March 2, 2010

    We're a Family

    So today marks my big guy's half birthday. Since his birthday typically falls outside the school year, we actually got to celebrate in his classroom this morning. Here he is, walking the earth around an imaginary sun five times to mark each year. (I swear I'm taking him for a haircut this very afternoon.)

    Feeling a bit nostalgic, it seemed a perfect time to share something I had long forgotten about. This has to be one of the most amazing moments of the last five and a half years of parenting, and one that we had the unbelievable good fortune to capture on tape.

    This is Ethan just before his second birthday. My husband thought it would be fun to make a "day in the life" video, so he was holding the camera as we walked around the neighborhood. What happened next, well...I think it's pretty obvious from my reaction that we didn't script or plan this.

    Enjoy! And Happy 5.5, E. We love you to the moon and back.

    Thursday, February 18, 2010

    The Cheese Face: A Retrospective

    Yesterday Alec turned two and a half. (Yes, I'm that mom. I know these things.)

    And in his honor, I'm doing something I've been meaning to do for the last six months.

    Right around his second birthday, we saw the emergence of Alec's "cheese face." It's his tried and true camera pose: eyes squeezed shut, mouth wide open. The cheese face is like Alec shorthand, a perfect manifestation of the impy, sunny, spirited little munchkin he is.

    The seasons have changed -- the balmy summer nights awash with fireflies have given way to Halloween costumes and then, to four foot piles of snow. But, like death and taxes, the cheese face endures. And so, without further ado, I bring you, in roughly chronological order, the Cheese Face: a Retrospective.

    You know what they say -- beware of Greeks bearing gifts. And toddlers bearing asparagus.

    Please, no more pictures.

    OK, that one's a little gross. Sorry. cocoa!
    This one almost looks painful.
    Best he could muster after a long day in the snow.
    So long, cheese fans. Happy Half Birthday, my little man.

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    Snowmaggedon, Part Deux

    There really is no way to convey the magnitude of what's happening out there right now. It's truly approaching Biblical proportions. We're filled with a strange mix of awe, excitement and an undeniable hint of fear at what a storm of this magnitude could possibly wreak. There's something curiously primal about this experience, about realizing that for all our technological advances, we are still very much at nature's mercy.

    In trying to show just how much snow we have, I found this photo, taken out Alec's bedroom window several years ago. The window looks over the flat roof that covers our back addition. This was the "before" photo for the new roof. (Or maybe that goes without saying?) You can make out the ivy-covered brick garage at left.

    And these are pictures taken out the same window this morning. The snow, now totaling close to three feet, was just about up to the windowsill; you can see the corner of the garage at left.

    My intrepid husband went out and shoveled it, fearing for our temperamental skylights.

    For now, we are warm, we are safe. We made chocolate chip cookies. We just watch and wait. And hope for the best.

    Saturday, February 6, 2010


    And now that I have dug from back door to front, you can see why said door wouldn't open.

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010

    Buzzed: The Sundance Wrapup

    One of the most telling moments of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival didn't even happen in Park City. It happened some 1800 miles away.

    While I was at Sundance with my brother Matt, my husband very graciously played Mr. Mom for a few days, a job that included taking our two year old to his weekly My Gym class. Chatting with one of the other moms by the trampoline, my husband explained my absence: Matt and I had gone to the festival to be with our brother, Eric, a writer-director whose film, 3 Backyards, was in the dramatic competition.

    And so began the inquisition.

    So is he out there looking for distribution?
    So maybe when he's there they can sell the film, right?
    Do you think he'll be able to get an investor interested?

    And there you have it.

    Whereas Sundance was once a place for film purists to celebrate independent film precisely for its independence from the commercial mainstream, so many people now view the festival as nothing more than a J.V. Hollywood. It's a place where people on bathroom lines chat about which film they think is going to be the next Clerks or Blair Witch Project, a place where buzz reigns supreme and even suburban soccer moms immediately inquire about an indie film's commercial prospects.

    Which is why, when kicking off this year's festival, with its "return to roots" ethos, Robert Redford took a shot at none other than Paris Hilton. Redford said Sundance has been "sliding," allowing celebrities, swag and buzz to overshadow the festival's real purpose. "It kind of engulfed what we did," Redford explained. "You end up with parties and celebrities and Paris Hilton...and that's not us. Sundance has nothing to do with any of that."
    So perhaps it's only fitting that my 2010 Sundance Film Festival experience was about as far from Paris Hilton as you can get: I saw only one hauntingly beautiful and decidedly un-commercial film the whole time I was there. (Three times!) I didn't attend a single party or see a single celebrity, unless you count the supremely lovely Kathryn Erbe, of Law and Order: Criminal Intent and Oz fame, who is one of the stars of 3 Backyards. Had I gotten there a day earlier, I would have been hanging out with The Sopranos' Edie Falco, but since she's been my brother's dearest friend for almost 30 years, I don't really think of her as a celebrity any more. I wanted desperately to follow Eric's lead and refuse to read any so-called buzz, but alas, the lure of the Twitter search and the google alert proved too great for me.

    So how was my Sundance experience? Perfect. We were there solely for moral support -- a nervous Eric told one interviewer he was "still looking for the 'fest' in 'festival'" -- and that's exactly what we provided. Eric introduced me and Matt at one screening, explaining that we had come to "rescue him;" we later joked it was between Haiti and Park City.

    And how was 3 Backyards? Come on. I thought it was brilliant. But my brother wrote and directed it, so maybe you'd rather hear what Variety said. Or the Los Angeles Times.

    Was it the most buzzed-about film at Sundance? Nope. Not by a long shot. But ultimately Eric transcended the ephemeral buzz and instead received an indisputable piece of actual acclaim: on Saturday night, he was named Best Director of the dramatic competition. You can watch his hilarious and heartfelt acceptance speech below. My screams were so loud I almost woke up the neighborhood.

    Congratulations, Eric. Not that you'll ever in a million years read this, but I hope you know I'm so so so very proud of you, not just for "winning" but for being true to who you are and making a film you believe in. I hope you get to make a million more. And that you never, ever, have to work with Paris Hilton.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010

    There She Is...

    I’m posting this from Park City, Utah, where I’ve been consumed with an annual celebrity-studded tradition. Rife with drama, it’s one in which an unknown aspirant with brave creative goals stands poised not only to fulfill a lifelong dream, but to be catapulted onto the national – and perhaps even the world -- stage.

    The Sundance Film Festival? Yeah, that, too. But I’m thinking of the Miss America pageant, which airs this Saturday night.

    Like most little girls in the 70s, I dutifully watched the pageant each year, sighing with wide-eyed admiration at the contestants, with their hot-rolled feathered hair and powder-blue eye shadow. Armed with sheets of looseleaf paper, I sat in my parents’ bedroom and took notes. I cheered for the prettiest Miss Nebraskas and Iowas, and was aghast when the judges selected a Miss Texas with an unforgivable dress or a Miss Kentucky of only dubious talent.

    The contestants – coltish baton twirlers who’d grown up on farms in Wisconsin and earnest, freckle-faced minister’s daughters from North Dakota – were nothing like anyone I knew in my insular, homogenous Long Island home town, peopled, as it was, with Marci Goldbergs and Shari Kopelowitzes. I was positively mesmerized by the unironic slice of Americana the pageant showed me.

    But like an awkward teenager who still clings to a love of hopscotch or jacks, my affection for the pageant lingered long past the point at which most of my peers had let go and moved on. Throughout my 20s, I continued to watch alone, albeit with an increasingly sardonic eye for the pageant’s absurdities and anachronisms. Chief among them, of course, was the Miss America Organization’s steadfast insistence that the pageant's primary purpose was to promote scholarship. I won my fair share of college scholarships. Oddly, not one of them required my wearing a bathing suit and heels or playing Feelings on the marimbas.

    The turning point in my pageant viewing experience came on September 22, 1996. I was at home in my Dupont Circle apartment reading the Washington Post when a story in the Outlook section jumped out at me.

    It was a column by Amy Argetsinger, a college acquaintance who I had heard was working for the paper as a Metro reporter. I had known Amy since our freshman year, when we lived a floor apart. We had many friends in common, but we had never been particularly close.

    Until that day.

    Because what Amy did in that fateful column was confess to a love of...The Miss America pageant.

    "Amy Argetsinger...likes Miss America?" I remember thinking in amazement. It was liberating to find another kindred soul. Another educated woman who would never in a million years
    be in a beauty pageant, but just couldn't resist getting wrapped up in the delicious cheeseball spectacle that is Miss America.

    As Amy wrote at the time:

    "I know what some of you are going to say: The Miss America Pageant objectifies women. To which I respond: Who cares? These are not normal women. They're curious specimens of crisp professionalism and rehearsed charm and incandescent optimism, utterly unlike myself and most people of my acquaintance. They are exotic creatures, like thoroughbreds or chess prodigies or prize tomatoes, who have willingly subjected themselves to their years-long regimens of training and discipline. Thus, it is perfectly appropriate -- not to mention hugely entertaining -- to compare and judge them against others of their species."
    I immediately called Amy at the Post and told her how much I loved her piece. We met for lunch. And became fast friends. In the intervening 14 years, we've even managed to even make it to the pageant four times, three times in Atlantic City and once in its new home in Las Vegas. (I was 12 weeks pregnant that time. For the record, morning sickness and Vegas are an acutely bad match.) A highlight? Our 2003 morning-after breakfast with my friend Fletcher Foster, a country music industry executive who had actually been one of the judges the previous night. We tried not to be too hard on Fletcher for his part in having given the crown to that ho-hum Miss Florida in the unfortunate yellow dress over our girl, Harvard-educated spunkmeister Miss Virginia, but loved getting the inside dish. (Oh, and that Amy has done alright by herself, by the way. She's now one of the paper's Reliable Source columnists. She just broke a story about a little couple named Salahi? Perhaps you've heard of them?)

    Amy and I, along with a solid crew of annual regulars, have turned pageant watching into our very own version of Fantasy Football. Each year, we peruse the field, with its legions of graduates of academic powerhouses like Christopher Newport University, and its countless 21 year old contenders who look exactly like middle-aged local news anchorwomen. Our record for sizing up the competition and spotting comers is eerily impressive.

    But like fans of a perpetual losing team, each year my girls and I gear up for another disappointment. We always pin our hopes on the rare real young woman – one with talent that would actually impress outside the pageant stage, or one who seems genuinely bright, not just what passes for smart in the pageant universe -- and once again wonder if this is her year to rise above the pack of "pageant patties." It never is.

    In 2006, by then the mother of a young son, I invited some newcomers – most of them friends made on the mom circuit -- to watch the pageant, introducing a whole new legion of born-again fans. I still can hear my friend Natalie, upon watching the totally underwhelming Miss Oklahama take the crown from our favorite. “How do you DO this every year?” she asked with faux disgust.

    The fact is that I really am at the Sundance Film Festival right now, supporting my brother as he promotes his film, 3 Backyards. So I haven't even had time yet to do my standard due diligence and make my Top Ten predictions. I hope Amy will understand. Regardless, we'll be watching Saturday night, cosmos in hand, doing our duty as Americans to support the nation's largest scholarship organization for women. Won't you do the same?

    2010 Miss America Pageant Preliminary Competition