Friday, August 28, 2009

At the End of the Rainbow

Reading Rainbow ends its 26-year run today.

That article made me terribly sad for some reason.

Maybe it's the push for phonics and letter-recognition over just getting kids excited to read. I think it's a bad decision to entirely drop one in favor of the other. Perhaps that decision was just more Bush-era stupidity. Perhaps - and this, I think, is what bothers me most - is that they are inherently assuming that you can teach a kid to read just by letting them watching TV. This overblown myth has become so pumped-up in our popular culture that many people take it as gospel. Baby Einstein DVDs and Leap Frog "learning systems" are just two products in the sea of items extremely aggressively marketed to today's parents as ways to make your kids smarter, just by plopping them in front of a screen.

While Reading Rainbow did make the assumption that kids already knew how to read (which, it turns out, a lot of them don't these days, even after graduating high school), it got them excited about reading. It let them do their own book reviews and encourage other kids to read the books. It portrayed books as fun, an adventure behind every cover, a new world contained between the pages. I feel that mentality has been lost somewhere along the way, despite all the push for teachers to "make learning fun." I think the love of learning is something that has been slowly eroded from our culture in the past ten years or so. "Intellectual" has become a dirty word. The Bush administration's lack of respect for education - both financially and culturally - has taken hold of America's collective consciousness. We have reached a point where we cannot have a television show about books, because our children cannot read. That does not bode well for our future.

I want to say something here about the dreadful state of America's public schools, display my outrage at the way education budgets are always the first to be gutted. I want to complain about the idiotic way that today's students are wheelbarrowed through grade levels, the way test scores are fudged and students are basically not made to do anything that they don't want to do. I want to ask why teachers are so vilified in education debates, why even Obama goes after them, when they are doing the best they can with the totally crappy resources at hand.

But instead I will just lament the loss of this fine show and wonder what my daughter will race home from school to watch in a few years' time. Something on the Disney Channel perhaps? Or Noggin? Video games? Online programming?

I don't think so. I'd rather have all the screens in our house silent and dark, the only sound in the house that of her voice as she sounds out the words in the book we are reading together.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Pay It Forward: Sneak Peeks

I am working away on the packages for my Pay-It-Forward buddies. I have come to the conclusion that I am the following things:

1. Completely scatterbrained
2. In need of a personal chef
3. The world's slowest crafter
4. Really lousy at a)estimating how long it takes to complete something and
5. b) budgeting my time.

Or possibly I just need someone to follow me around and keep me on task all day. I always feel swamped, but nothing ever seems to get done, work-wise, house-wise, or craft-wise. Why is that?!

Despite my slowness, they are shaping up to be pretty cool. In the meantime, here are some sneak peeks:

Please forgive the small and blurry cameraphone pictures. Our house seems to have inadequate night-time lighting, for some reason. Also, I am on a differerent computer and having formatting problems...sigh.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Almost-Alone Time

Ryan is at a conference in Washington all week, so it's just Piper & me until Friday. That's a loooong time with nobody else around. I may or may not survive.

At least she's feeling better. She spiked a temp late Thursday night that continued to climb so we took her to the doctor on Friday. The nurse chastised me for not giving her any medicine that morning. Apparently I should've given her Tylenol for the fever and thereby eliminated her one quantifiable symptom thus far. Then the doctor told me to only give her something if it was above 101, which it was in the office, but it had only been 99.8 that morning. Sigh. Anyway, they took some throat & nose swabs, which caused Piper to scream so loud she could be heard in the parking lot. The verdict was "a virus, probably of the 48-hour variety." So all weekend she moaned and whined and refused to sleep. She kept running around, even though her eyes were so droopy and puffy it looked like she'd been hanging out with Cheech & Chong. You'd think that this would exhaust her and she would crash out for numerous hours of sleep, like the doctor encouraged us to let her do, but no. She woke up every 35 minutes all night, both nights, until I gave up and let her get in bed with us. Then she woke up every 90 minutes.

It was a miserable time, made more so by the fact that we actually had plans this weekend. Ryan asked a friend to babysit and was going to take me to see The Goods so I could indulge my Jeremy Piven crush. We had to cancel. I couldn't even call anyone to hang out for coffee on Sunday, because the alleged 48-hour virus was allegedly contagious. Having a kid means you will always be a plague carrier of one sort or another. Sometimes it's toys that spark another kid's cartoon obsession. Sometimes it's craft projects that shed glitter all over everything they encounter. Sometimes it's 48-hour viruses that make a whiny 2-year-old's parents feel simultaneously guilty and pissed off that she will not sleep when they are dropping in their tracks.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Stuff Under Twenty Giveaway: riotjane prints

Today is apparently Giveaway Day here at Tragically Ordinary, because I have another one for you.

The lovely ladies at Stuff Under Twenty have a new giveaway this week. Check it out. Those prints are verrrry nice, and riotjane's work is so good I want buy all of it. My bare walls are really starting to bother me. A lot. Anyway, click over to check out the giveaway.

Really Cool Art Pendant Giveaway

Erin is giving away a tiny painting to wear around your neck. No, really, check it out. Her pendants are amazing (and her art is fantastic, check out the other stuff in her shop). I love all the crazy monsters she comes up with. Go comment to enter the giveaway.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman

Although a friend was kind enough to lend me her copy of Ayelet Waldman's Bad Mother, I think I will actually have to go and purchase my own. And about six extra copies for other people I know.

Yesyesyes, I know it's a parenting book, and a parenting book that says "Look at all the crappy things I do! Why, I'm barely hanging on!" neither of which are terribly revolutionary for the literature of our time. However, it is NOT one of those pretending-to-be-shamefaced-but-really-smirking "confessional"-style books that are so popular with the Mom set nowadays. The first chapter is, in fact, all about these supposedly-shocking crises of conscience. While I was reading, I made a connection that seems so obvious but somehow gets lost in all the screaming about what makes a bad mother.

Remember in middle school and high school, when you and your girlfriends (or any gaggle of girls in a school bathroom) would play "I'm so fat"? Someone would start it and then it would go around and around. "Oh, I'm so fat," she would say, looking in the mirror. "Of course you're not," the next girl would say. "I'm so fat." "You're not fat, I'm so fat," the next girl would say. It would go on until everyone had a turn or three or the bell rang. The point of the exercise was not that you thought you were fat; just that you might be, and you needed to test the waters. You needed to hear someone else say in front of witnesses that you weren't and that she felt the same way too. It was a way of seeking what all adolescents crave: reassurance and acceptance.

Well, guess what? Times haven't changed. We just gather at coffee houses, bars and playgroups instead of in beige school bathrooms and "I'm a bad mother" has replaced "I'm so fat."

"Oh, god, I'm a terrible mommy," someone will start. "I didn't give my daughter her organic whole-wheat granola cereal this morning, just some organic locally-farmed naturally-sweetened yogurt." Then someone picks up the torch and starts to run. "That's not bad," says this second mom. "I gave my kids Popsicles yesterday that had corn syrup in them. I'm the worst mother!" and on and on it goes, a round-robin of imaginary transgressions, each slightly worse than the last, none of them much worth writing home about. Until they get to me, and I stammer something about how I gave her wheat, dairy, AND strawberries before she was a year old, when really I'm thinking I locked myself in the bedroom closet last night so I could have five minutes of personal time.

These sorts of "confessions" are quite popular lately, but nowhere so much as the peculiar echo chamber that is blogging. There are entire websites devoted to this stuff, and a whole lot of people getting book deals (and a lot of advertising dollars) out of it.

Waldman tackles this phenomenon, and notes that she has been accused pretty vehemently of bad mothering by the screechy voices of people on the Internet (also people on Oprah). Then she goes on to actually talk about some things that she has done that are a) interesting and b) possibly worthy of feeling guilty about, at least in a personal sense. She is pretty blunt when talking about her abortion of a fetus that had a birth defect, her despair at the knowledge that one day her son will love his wife more than he loves her (and puzzlement about why she feels this, after territorial struggles with her own mother-in-law), or her children's learning disabilities. It's a refreshing voice to read, rather than the Coquette (look at me, the bad mommy, wink-wink) or the Life of the Party (HEY I'M SUCH A SHITTY MOM HA HA LOOK AT ME WHOOO!) that seem to be the only ones available for writing about navigating modern motherhood.

The truth is, this is the first parenting/mothering writing I've read that didn't make me feel totally alone. No matter what book or blog or essay I tried, no matter if it was fact, fiction, memoir, or rant, they have all made me feel as though I were completely alone on some far-flung desert island outpost otherwise known as Motherhood. Waldman doesn't craft syrupy-sweet pages of prose dedicated to how wonderful she thinks it all is. She doesn't go on and on about poop and crying. She doesn't write about how she's such a "slacker mom" or whine about how hard parenting is. She talks about the why, and the when, and the where of self-criticism and how it causes us to criticize other mothers. She doesn't talk about all her great modernist kids' furniture or name-drop celebrities she hangs out with or give me ridiculous tips for "keeping it real." In fact, she comments on how she started writing as an escape from the tedium of stay-at-home-momdom and says she knows how fortunate she is to have the outlet available. There are no posed photos of her children in outrageously expensive clothes, no rambling attention-seeking recounts of traveling Europe with an infant in tow. This book did not make me feel jealous, inferior, superior, inadequate, overcompensating, or hyper-vigilant. I did not once have an urge to chuck it across the room and scream "Oh, for God's sake, SHUT UP!" For a parenting book, that's a pretty good score.

In fact, the only irritating thing about the book is Waldman's near-constant mention of her husband, writer Michael Chabon. For a book with "Mother" in the title, the father of her children makes an appearance in every chapter. Which is fine, modern parenting being all about sharing the workload and all, but the continual mention (and praise) of Chabon started to seem almost like an uncontrollable tic after a while. Eh. C'est la vie, I guess.

Verdict: Thumbs up
Buy it: Yeah, probably
Gift it: definitely

Monday, August 17, 2009

Grosgrain: Sew Cute Shop Amy Butler Birdie Sling GUEST GIVEAWAY

Check it out.

Grosgrain: Sew Cute Shop Amy Butler Birdie Sling GUEST GIVEAWAY!!!!

The bags in the photos are waaaay cute, especially that first red one. And if you click through to look at Sew Cute Shop's in-stock fabric, you will probably be like me and come up with no less than 26 different combos you would like a bag made from.

I am always searching for the One True Bag, and I'd sure like to win this giveaway so I can try out another candidate. Someday, my bag will come.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Better Get a 3-Pack

"Well, I'm going to need a new toothbrush."
"Because our daughter is in the living room brushing her toes with mine."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Vocabulary, and a birthday.

Everyone go check out Antoinette's shop, Vocabulary. Very cute clothing, made by a very cute person. Show some love.

In other news:

Today's my birthday.

I hate my birthday.

But I would like some red velvet cake with cream cheese icing, and a bottle of Saint Clair Vicar's Choice Sauvignon Blanc 2008. I saw red velvet cupcakes and sampled the wine this weekend. I haven't been able to get either of them off my mind ever since.

Other things that I would like: a pedicure, a trip to the movies, or someone to come organize my house for me.

I already got my present (an iPhone, which I am still learning how to use) a couple of weeks ago. My very nice husband didn't want to count it as my present, but I told him nonsense. Buying me what is essentially a $200 toy two weeks before my birthday counts as a present. So this morning he let me sleep in until the princely hour of 9:30, made me breakfast, gifted me a bag containing several bottles of SoBe Black & Blueberry water (my new favorite treat-beverage) and then we went out to run some errands. I had a caramel latte, I bought a Charley Harper calendar to cut up and frame for wall art, I got my wedding ring cleaned, we got lunch at Qdoba, we went to the hardware store to look for some stuff. Not bad.

He's at work now, he has to work some crazy shift until 2:00 in the morning. So I am here with Miss Crabb-a-Lot, who didn't take a nap today and is consequently demanding popsicles and whining like there is no tomorrow.

At least it's not 97 degrees today.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Giveaway: Rae Gun Ramblings: Zazu Cake Shop Skirt

New Giveaway at Rae Gun Ramblings.Pretty cute, dudes.

Normally I wouldn't be loving that particular color combo, but it works. Show her some love (and links) to enter the giveaway.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Giveaway: Back-to-School Clothes

Stuff Under Twenty is having another great giveaway. This time you can win some nice clothes from America's Basics. So go on over, show the ladies some love, and check it out.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Something I'm Loving: B&W skirt

I'm not sure if I could pull this off (I'm pretty short, and I have a hunch it would make me look like a lampshade), but I love it anyway. I think it craves a really awesome black wide-brimmed hat with a white band.

Found at Stuff Under Twenty.

Friday, August 07, 2009

In Defense of Julie Cooper

August 7th, 2009: I have been craving a good summer TV distraction lately, and since TV largely disappoints me these days (me falling love with a show is pretty much a guarantee that it will immediately be canceled, and we have no cable except HBO) I turned to our robust DVD collection to fill the void. We love TV on DVD and buy far more of that than actual movies. One title immediately jumped out at me from the multicolored rows in the cabinet:

You know you love it.

I was skeptical of this show when it started, dismissed it as teenage fluff - which it sort of is - but got sucked in during the first season's Thanksgiving episode. Some good friends of ours also admitted to watching it, and pretty soon we had a weekly couples-date going. This was before we moved to California, before it was even on our radar, but still some of the place names were familiar to me, since I had spent part of my childhood in the Golden State. It was good, silly fun, and it is that kind of TV I turn to now, in these muggy, grouchy days of summer.

My husband and I both had an immediate loathing for the Marissa Cooper character. Part of our love for the show was mocking her mercilessly, but after a while it's like shooting fish in a barrel, really. The poor little beautiful rich girl, with her alcohol problem and her shoplifting and her stupidity and her complete inability to come out and say what she means and her passive-aggressiveness and her constant needy clinging and her total lack of anything resembling a personality. She played everything doe-eyed and dumb, but somehow found a way to make everyone's lives miserable the instant they weren't focused on her. It drove me nuts.

Her mother, however, was a different story. I loved Julie Cooper. She was exactly the sort of trash-talking, manipulative, clutching villainess you want in a soap opera about beautiful rich people. She gets her comeuppance - more than once- in some very public smackdowns, but she keeps on going. In the end you wind up rooting for her, even though you don't want to.

More than that, I have to say I respected Julie Cooper. Admired her, even. Julie's backstory had her pregnant at not-quite-18 years old with the child of one of Newport Beach's shining scions. Married very young to someone who, despite his family's good standing with the country club, was sort of a hapless ne'r-do-well unable to handle real responsibility, Julie would've found herself thrust into a world of expensive cars and vicious tongues. She was from Riverside, which, while not as big a craphole as some parts of the IE (like, um, the part that we lived in), is not necessarily a nice place to grow up (they made it pretty obvious she didn't come from the big-houses-on-the-hill part of town). So what did Julie do? At the tender age of 18, she jumped right in and clawed her way to the top of the social mountain. She became not only one of the Newpsies, but their queen. Feared far and wide, Julie could organize a charity benefit for cancer kids or shoehorn her daughter into a coture dress with equal steely-eyed determination.

I have to say, I admire that.

And she's always got such great handbags...

Monday, August 03, 2009

A Few of My Favorite Things, #1

I'm about to have a selfish blogging moment and talk all about me. Feel free to run screaming for the hills.

This is my favorite t-shirt. I love it so much that I wash it in cold water and hang-dry it every single time, because I want it to last until I am old and grey and wheelchair-bound. I got it for either $5 or $10 (I can't remember anymore) during one of the big semi-annual sales at Threadless. We love Threadless around this house - Piper's love of monsters and their $5 sale are a match made in heaven.

I cannot tell you exactly what I love so much about this design, but I can tell you that when I first clicked onto that product page, I got the joke right away and knew what the title would be. It made me laugh out loud, right there at my computer. I knew I had to have it. The design has sold out, and I hope that someday they will do a reprint, so I can buy an extra in case anything happens to my beloved tee.