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I have moved to WordPress. Somewhat. Mostly.
OK, guys. Lots of changes going on behind the scenes today.... Don't bother commenting until the transfer happens.
I'm moving to a very VANILLA design at WordPress. Fixing the design is the easy part. Moving the archives, the ad codes, and the domain name is boring, but terribly time consuming. My goal is to get this boring stuff done in the next 24 hours.
I just ordered three books from Amazaon about unusual families.
Priscilla Gilman's The Anti-Romantic Child: A Memoir of Unexpected Joy.
Andrew Solmon's Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity
After a weekend of family fun, I'm sitting at the computer looking a long list of troublesome chores. Steve and Jonah went off to work and school with that same hangdog look. Only Ian went to school with a smile. Thank God for Ian.
The first order of business is dealing with this blog. Typepad installed a new spam filter a couple of months ago, and it has wrecked havoc with this blog. I haven't updated the blog design in several years. I need a new logo and all that. With ten years of archives and a sidebar with ads, it's a huge pain in the ass to make a change. I have to tranfer info with GoDaddy, sitemeter, and Google analytics, too.
So, I need to do a little research on paying someone else to deal with that mess versus doing it myself.
This blog feels like the home of a hoarder. Instead of collecting hats or buttons, I'm a collector of words and ideas. I haven't done the best job of keeping things organized, so now I must pay the price.
I'm going to put up some very short blog posts over the next couple of days, but nothing too long. I'll be mostly working behind the scenes to clean up this mess.
UPDATE2: What a time suck!!!! I picked out a vanilla design from WordPress. I'm the process of tranferring the archives. Next step, transfer the domain name. After everything moves over properly, I'll play around with the design more leisurely. I probably should have started this process during the weekend, but whatevs.
Last week, I picked up this shirt dress from the GAP. It's marked down way more in the store. With that sale price, plus a 30 percent coupon, plus the GAP credit card discount, I think I paid $20 for it.
I'm a huge fan of pairing a tunic or a shorter dress with leggings. Leggings are the best way to keep wearing short skirts without horrifying the neighbors and small children. Hue's footless tights are not too thick.
And then let's quickly talk about the printed pants trend. Gap's got 'em. So does H&M, J. Crew, the Banana, and just about every place. A few months ago, I got a pair from Uniqlo, but I don't think I would recommend them. The material was too cheap.
So, what do you wear with tight, printed pants? What do you wear when you have something so girlie on your ass?
It's easy to go wrong. Wear those pants with heels and too much jewelry and you'll be all ready for Cougar Night at the Bicardi Grill in Paramus, New Jersey. I say if you're wearing flowers on your ass, then you have to butch it up everywhere else. Loose black shirt and clunky shoes.
The New York Times reports on two new studies about the influence of money on education. On a geeky level, I'm thrilled to see data that clicks so well with my anecdotal observations. It also supplements the research summarized here.
The first study by Sabino Kornrich and Frank F. Furstenberg, “Investing in Children: Changes in Parental Spending on Children, 1972–2007,” found that spending on children grew over the past four decades and that it became more unequal. “Our findings also show that investment grew more unequal over the study period: parents near the top of the income distribution spent more in real dollars near the end of the 2000s than in the early 1970s, and the gap in spending between rich and poor grew.”
The rich are spending way more on their children's education than they did in the past. Rich parents are investing more than ever in tutors, after-school enrichment programs, camps, and private schools. The gap between them and their poorer peers grows every day.
But all that enrichment is making kids miserable. The intensive enrichment is coming out of parental anxiety, and the kids pick up those vibes. (I can't tell you how many of Jonahs' peers have serious anxiety problems.)
Research from Suniya S. Luthar, professor of psychology and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College finds that upper-middle class kids are reacting all this enrichment and pressure in unhealthy ways. She found high levels of substance use, depression and anxiety, particularly among the girls. They were more at-risk for these problems than inner-city kids.
Upper middle class kids are feeling the stress of their parents. The anxiety of falling out of the middle class. The backup plans for average middle class kids do not exist any more. There is the perception that there are fewer and fewer winners in this new economy. And kids and parents are freaking out.
I'm enjoying flipping through the slide show at New York magazine. I would totally wear Christina Ricci's dress. Love plaid.
And here's what everyone looks like the next day with a hangover.
Check out all the great square shaped sunglasses on the hangovered stars. Ray-Bans. Glad that they are back in style, because that's the only shape that looks good on round faces like mine.
The New York Times magazine profiled the Avenues school in New York City. Avenues is a private school that was recently opened by the media and education entrepreneur H. Christopher Whittle; Alan Greenberg, a former publisher of Esquire magazine; and the former Yale president Benno C. Schmidt Jr. (and current chair of the Board of Trustees of CUNY colleges).
Working with $85 million in start up money and annual tuition payments of $43,000 per child, they are tapping the great minds to build the most perfect school ever. Sound good, doesn't it? Imagine having a blank check to create the perfect school. Imagine building your own team of fresh, energetic teachers and consultants from scratch. Sound good, right?
The problem with building a school that needs rich parents and their tuition payments is that you have to deal with the parents. You'll have to sell your program to them. Any education program would have to sound fun and new. So, you couldn't sell an old school program that had the kids read the classics and write, re-write, and re-write essays.
The school also has to deal with parental anxieties. There are meetings, after meetings.
And then there was the food committee. After the PowerPoint presentation concluded in the black-box theater, the questions started flying: Why so much bread? What was the policy on genetically modified organisms? Why no sushi? Nancy Schulman, the head of Avenues’ Early Learning Center, who was sitting among the parents that night, has a theory about the wealthy parents of young children. Privileged parents want to control everything in their kids’ lives. When the kids go to school, the parents can’t control what happens for eight long hours; hence, food. She dutifully worked with parents to implement many of their ideas, including more education about nutrition, and more snack time.
The article mocks the mission of the school, which seeks to provide the kids with humility. They want to promote humility, because elite colleges and businesses say that super rich kids coming out of New York City are too arrogant. Elite colleges are sick of them, and companies end up firing them. The idea of an exclusive, expensive, elite school creating committees trying to figure out how to make rich kids less arrogant is a little wonderful.
I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in a wealthy town. The professors lived on the same blocks with the cops. The lawyers, doctors, CEOs, and the occasional musician lived on the other side of town. So, I thought I knew rich people, until I moved to Manhattan and took my first job as an editorial assistant at major book publisher. While I entirely supported myself on my $15,500 salary (rent, food, entertainment, clothes), some of the other assistants were society page types whose daddies paid the rent on their midtown apartments. Their salary was pocket change that contributed towards their entertainment funds. One fellow assistant told me that she had never ridden on a subway before.
How do you teach rich kids humility?
When Nick discovers the truth about his wife's abduction, his lawyer tells him to keep quiet. It was too complicated a story, he said. Juries and the public wouldn't be able to follow a complicated reality. People like simple, predictable stories, like "the husband did it." Nick needed to package an alternative story that the public could latch onto.
Gone Girl is just that. A simple, well-packaged novel with one twist that happens in the middle of the book, but it lacks depth and some basic believable characters. [Spoiler alert!! ]
A wife, Amy, is missing. All signs point to the husband, Nick. Halfway through the book, we learn that the chapters that were written in the wife's voice were works of fiction. (It's very meta.) Her diary was all lies and was designed to frame her cheating husband. We learn that we've been manipulated, just like all the other characters in the story. The wife eventually comes home and manipulates the husband even further to keep their marriage together.
That's how the book was sold to publishers. I could probably hone that last paragraph down to a single catchy sentence, the elevator pitch. Publishers want the quick blurb, the neat-o concept, the dramatic title. The words inside don't matter so much. They just want to make that book sale, knowing that most books sit on a coffee table and are never actually read.
Gone Girl is all pitch, and not enough substance. Amy is a two-dimensional psycho - unbelievable at times and inconsistent other times. The supporting characters are too predictable and wooden to feel real. She had no idea of what to do with Nick at the end.
The most honest voice in the book comes from the lawyer, who sneers at the stupidity of the public and their ability to be manipulated. Gillian Flynn, the author, takes this message to heart. She's giving us a well-packaged story, and we're buying it for our book clubs and our coffee tables. Like Amy, she researched the science of pitches and mystery novel plotlines and the formula for bestsellers, and gave us just that.
Call me old fashioned, but I don't like books that assume I'm stupid and easily manipulated by formulas and book club-friendly plot lines. I want a book that is more than a pitch, please.
In AlJazeera English, Sarah Kendzior writes about a $22,000 internship at the U.N. No, they aren't paying interns $22,000. The intern pays the U.N. $22,000 to “gain inside knowledge of just how the UN really operates.”
Pacific-Standard reports on a study that examined economists' desire to publish in highly prestigious journals. No academic journal pays its authors for their work, but there is a pecking order among these journals for prestige. They sent a questionnaire to fellow economists and asked them, " If a medicine existed that would give them a day-long surge in brainpower—enough to formulate an article good enough for one of four major journals—would they take it? If so, would they still do so if they knew it would slightly reduce their lifespan?"
Yes, economists would shorten their lifespans, if they would be guaranteed an article in a top-tier journal. They would be willing to shorten their lifespans by nearly a year for that money-less honor. Of course, there are indirect monetary benefits from publishing in a prestigious journal. You can bumped up the academic payscale with a promotion, but the types of people who get published in those journals are already at the top of the pay scale and have tenure.
I have not necessarily made the best career decisions over my lifetime. I always seem to lean towards jobs that provide prestige and not so much money. With all my career fluctuations, I'm stuck in the "paying dues" job phase and never made it to the "gravy train" phase. So, I understand the need for low paying, prestigious work, but I'm trying very hard to be more rational about my work efforts.
Some of these unpaid internships and honorific jobs are a result of the crappy economy. Post-college kids need to get something on their resume, other than their summer job at Wendy's. But the economists in the Pacific-Standard story aren't suffering like that. Where's the rational actor in all this?
When I first started working at home, I missed the chit-chat in the hallways and lunch with colleagues in the cafeteria. I'm an extrovert. All that time at home by myself made me a little insane. My freelancer friends in New York City and Boston told me that they rented out desks in writers' offices. They said it helped keep them focused, and they met interesting people, while eating their lunches in the break room.
I spent a few days trying to find a space like that here in the wilds of suburbia. There was nothing. There are a lot of freelance writers and other entrepreneurs out here. They camp out in the Barnes and Noble cafe and in Starbucks. So, I know they exist, but they haven't set up a writers' office.
I played around with the idea of opening up my own freelance office. I picked out the building that I would rent out. I imagined how much I would charge patrons and how it would be the coolest office ever.
But then abandoned the idea. I didn't think it would fly out here for the same reasons that the restaurants suck out here. Even though we're just 30 minutes from downtown Manhattan, suburbia is suburbia and tastes change once you cross the bridge. People have enough room in their homes for office space and nobody would be willing to pay money for space, when there's plenty of free space in the library and the coffee house.
Still, I'm very envious of people who work in these places.
Winter took a long time to leave New Jersey. It began early with the two week depression of Hurricane Sandy and then lingered with grey skies and dirty snow for far too long. March behaved like February. A warm, sunny spring is our reward for surviving the melancholy winter. People emerged from their bunker-like homes with smiles and warm greetings for neighbors not seen for many months. Suddenly, we have too many parties and social events. The flowering trees have too many impossibly bright blossoms. The grass is too green. It's excessive and over-the-top, like the Jersey ladies leaving Nordstroms with too many designer shoes. But it's also so very lovely.
On Saturday, Steve mowed the lawn, which he babies with chemicals and carefully placed water sprinklers. I poured bags of top soil and mulch around the gardens. I planted dahlias and peonies - big showy flowers in magenta and hot pink. I'll plant more useful and more subtle plants later this month, but right now I'm in a hot pink, over-the-top mood.
The boys both had sports activities on Sunday. Since the times overlapped, we split up. I took Ian to his special ed baseball, while Steve took Jonah to church and then to a soccer match.
At 10, Ian and I went to the main sports field in town right in front of the library and the town hall with the river rock foundation. He was given a maroon t-shirt and ball cap with the logo from the homemade ice-cream shop in town. Like everything in this town, the special ed baseball team was perfectly organized.
Baseball is the toughest sport for kids with special needs, because it involves a lot of waiting around time. Kids with the attention span of five seconds cannot stand still waiting for a ball to fly their way in left field. Also, the mitt is hard for them to manage. So, a typical game isn't possible. They broke the kids into small groups and had them rotate every ten minutes to a different station. They moved from the base running station to the batting station to the throwing and catching station. Someone put the soundtrack to "The Little Mermaid" on the sound system.
Ian was assigned two round-faced, cheerful high school girl volunteers. Their hair was pulled back in ponytails and secured with headbands. I told him to listen to them and then retreated to the bandshell with my book. Ian does better without me micromanaging the volunteers. I looked up a couple of times to make sure that he wasn't taking a nap on the field, but he was doing great, so I got lost in Gone Girl for an hour and a half.
Towards the end of the session, the organizers had the kids play a five minute game. Each kid had two volunteers behind them on the field. When the boy with cerebral palsy came to bat, someone held his arms and hit the ball for him. His heavy electronic wheelchair got stuck in the sand, so three high school kids pushed his chair around the bases. He waved his arms with clawed hands in the air and whooped with joy.
Ian proudly told me that he got an inside the park homerun and that he really need ice-cream from the store on the back of his t-shirt. Ten minutes later, with chocolatey faces, we raced off to catch the end of Jonah's game.
Jonah's game was about twenty minutes away in a town just over the New York state border. In a "Sex in the City" episode, Sarah Jessica Parker's character goes to her boyfriend's weekend house in the woods. The city girl complained to her friends that she was "sufferin' in Suffern." Suffern is like a lot of towns in Rockland County, a mix of Hasidic Jewish schools, old townie homes with furniture on the front lawn, and massive, newly constructed McManions set up for the corporate park-types. Using the crappy GPS on my cell phone, I finally found the field and cheered for my skinny legged son.
I have a packed week planned here. I have too many blog posts in my head that need to be actually written. I need to research the new magazine article and finish off the current project. My life is really "too much," "over-the-top," and "excessive" right now, and I couldn't be happier.
I could write about Oregon and health policy or about the new jobs report, but I'm not. (Or at least, not at this moment.) Because it's GIRLIE FRIDAY! Let's talk workout gear.
Because I spend four or five hours in front of computer screen every morning, I need to hit the gym every day. It doesn't happen religiously every day, because I'm lazy, and life is busy. But it happens nearly every day.
After the workout, I roam around town doing other chores. I like to cover up with a big loose yoga-style sweatshirt or a long sweater, not a tight runners sweatshirt. I like something like this or this or this.
As I was filling up my kids with eggs this morning (state standardized test week), Steve read the newspaper in the midst of the chaos. He likes to stand up at the counter and read the paper in Ground Zero for the morning routine.
I glanced over at the open paper. He was engrossed in the article about new evidence that the Jamestown colony had to resort to cannibalism to survive.
It's a great article that talks about the extreme starvation that the colony faced. It also describes the break throughs in genetic research that have helped historians understand the past.
From the state of her molars, she is judged to have been 14 years old. Isotopes in her bones indicate that she had eaten a high-protein diet, so she was probably not a maidservant but the daughter of a gentleman.
Dr. Owsley said in an interview that he could tell she was English because of his familiarity with English skeletal remains of the 17th century and from scientific tests. The ratio of oxygen isotopes in her bones indicated that she had grown up in the southern coastal regions of England, Dr. Owsley said, and the carbon isotopes pointed to a diet that included English rye and barley.
As my frustrated historian hubby walked out of the house, he was talking about tree rings and core samples from Greenland and entomology and all the other new techniques that anthropologists and historians have at their disposal.
More at the Atlantic.