Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

April 30, 2010

Every Friday I point you to some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. In light of my upcoming move, I was eerily fascinated by this recent interview in Salon about the psychology of hoarding.

2. I’m always in awe of people who make bold, creative moves with their careers, especially writers. So I loved learning about Henriette Lazardis Powers’ new innovation: a literary magazine that’s performed out loud called The Drum. Brilliant!

3. And while we’re on the subject of writers, you will laugh out loud at Nicola Morgan’s brilliant recounting of what it’s like when your taxi driver asks you what you do for a living.

4. On a more serious note, this true story by my colleague Sarah Wildman over at Politics Daily of what it’s like to have a baby without health insurance will – as my father used to say – “curl your hair.”

5. I’m no stranger to that most odious of rodents: the rat. So I was delighted when a friend sent me this story by Michelle Ephraim in Errant Parent about what it’s like when a rat invades your car – and your visions of motherhood.

6. If you’ve ever had to have “that talk” with your son or daughter, you’ll relate to this essay by Sierra Black on the New York Times Motherlode blog aptly titled Naked Barbies.

7. Finally, a lovely meditation by Philip Graham on why we all read. (Hat tip: Writer Abroad.)

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Why Women Shouldn’t Settle For Unhappy Marriages

April 29, 2010

I’ve been thinking a lot about marriage lately. Or, more precisely: unhappy marriages. And I’m beginning to wonder if it isn’t time for more women to – as we say in politics – “throw the bums out.”

I got to thinking about this after my colleague, Melinda Henneberger, wrote a post last weekend about one of those marriages about which we know just a bit too much: Silda and Elliot Spitzer‘s. You may recall Spitzer as the former Governor of New York who resigned from his job when it was revealed that he’d been patronizing a prostitution service. And you will certainly recall his wife, Silda, who stood next to him as he resigned in what has to go down in history as one of the most painful “stand by your man” performances of all time.

What Melinda zeroes in on is a quote attributed to Silda Spitzer in Peter Elkind’s new book, Rough Justice: The Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer. Referring to her husband’s penchant for hookers, Mrs. Spitzer says: “The wife is supposed to take care of the sex. This is my failing. I wasn’t adequate.”

Take a moment to cringe. Please.

And when you’re done, do some reflection. Because we all know plenty of Sildas, don’t we ladies? Strong, confident, loving female friends who dissolve into a pool of self-doubt and self-loathing when their husbands stray or simply fail to live up to their expectations.

Read the rest of this article here

Image: Divorce by jcoterhals via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Five Ways To Stay Positive While You Move

April 28, 2010

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

We’re moving in exactly one week. And so I’m pretty single-minded right now. When I’m not actually doing something connected to the move, I’m thinking about the move.

I’ve fessed up before to just how very much I hate moving. (Some would say irrationally so. I name no names.) But I’m also trying to take my own advice from last week’s volcanic ash crisis and remind myself that “Ce n’est pas gràve.”

And it really isn’t all that “gràve.” In fact, there are a lot of positives that emerge when you move house and they aren’t just the simple pleasures of decluttering.

In that spirit, here are five ways to stay upbeat during a move:

1. Reconnect with your kids’ childhood. One of Gretchen Rubin’s four splendid truths is that “The days are long but the years are short.” She employs this principle to capture what it’s like to be a parent:  how those long, seemingly endless days of reading Good Night, Moon and potty-training dissolve – overnight – into adolescence. Her point is that you really need to savor your kids’ childhood while it lasts because while it may feel long in the day to day, it’s actually fleeting. (I had this same realization last year while re-reading Peter Pan with my daughter.)

Moving helps you to savor their childhood. Because of the many things you unearth as you re-open those frightening storage containers that you hid in the depths of your closet when you first moved in are the myriad art projects, report cards, essays and birthday cards that your kids have done over the years. My own favorite was a picture that my son drew when his (quite progressive) nursery school did a unit on Martin Luther King. I’d forgotten all about this picture, which used to hang above the desk in my old office. It depicts a sort of Monsters, Inc.-style version of MLK addressing an audience with a disproportionately large microphone while saying “I hope that one day Black people and White people can be friends.” Priceless.

2. Reconnect with your own past. You may not have any kids. But you’ll still be forced to take a trip down memory lane as you yank stuff out  of those dusty old cupboards. I found a pair of my father’s orthopedic shoes. He left them here on his last visit to London in October of 2008. We saved them so that we could give them back to him on his next visit. But he never came back. He died, suddenly, of a heart attack in March, 2009. Back when he was alive, I hated those shoes. They were large and clunky and a visible reminder that the body of a man who used to take jump shots in our driveway well into his 50s was slowly giving out on him. (It ended up giving out on him much more quickly than we expected.) But seeing those shoes again actually made me happy. They were a tangible reminder of his presence in our lives. And I needed that.

3. Allow yourself to let go of the *shoulds*. I’ve written before about how many of us go through life tethered to an endless list of things that we feel we ought to be doing, yet never quite manage to accomplish: making photo albums, reading the Bible, joining a gym. During the course of going through my files the other day, I came across some notes from a Hebrew class that I took while pregnant with my son and which I’ve schlepped around with me for (gulp) ten years. The thought was that some day I’d get my act together and really learn Hebrew. Well folks, I still haven’t let go of the goal of figuring out my relationship to Judaism. But I think that I’ve finally acknowledged to myself that despite my best intentions, that process will not entail learning Hebrew (a least for the foreseeable future.) Toss. Ditto my hopes of ever actually using that over-sized fish poacher that we got for our wedding. After twelve years doing noble service as a de facto spice rack, I think it’s finally time for me to dispatch that particular item from our lives. Phew.

4. Imagine new vistas literally and figuratively. One of the most exciting things about moving is that it offers the prospect of a whole new neighborhood to discover. There will be new cafés, new book stores, new dry cleaners – not to mention new neighbors!  I love change so imagining these things is always a way to motivate myself when I just don’t feel like calling the Gas company to request new service or whatever arduous task lies at hand. It’s a bit like singing My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music, if you’ll forgive the cheesy Musical analogy. And change in one’s physical scenery can also furnish a new take on life psychologically. Out with the old and in with the new, and all that good stuff. I really believe that.

5. Trust that things will be better once you make it to the other side. Like childbirth, if you really remembered all the gory details, you’d never move more than once in your life. And yet, most of us do it several times. So, yes, moving is painful but it also does come to an end. And when the clouds part, there’s a whole new world to explore.

*****

For those of you who’d like to hear my latest thoughts on this unbelievably exciting British election, please head on over to PoliticsDaily.com.


Image: Statue of Dr. Martin Luther King by zug55 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

April 23, 2010

Every Friday, I point you towards some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. Many of our lives were dominated over the past week by the cloud of volcanic ash hanging over Europe. Here are some amazing photos of the volcano when it first erupted in Iceland from The Guardian.

2. People aren’t the only ones who go through life stages. So do social movements. Here’s a great walk down memory lane of Earth Day “growing up” on the blog Change Marketing. (Remember that “Crying Indian” ad? Priceless!)

3. I love to think about names and why we choose them. In that vein, here are two terrific posts from the past week on naming: one by my colleague Joann Weiner at Politics Daily talking about why women do (or do not) take their husband’s last name and one over at Big Little Wolf’s Daily Plate of Crazy talking about naming people and cities.

4. I was really touched by this blog post about what a daughter learned from her mother over at Pre-Middle Age. My favorite lesson: There are no shortcuts.

5. I’m not even remotely rural in my sensibilities but I loved this essay about finally getting what you want in life at Cold Antler Farm. (Hat tip: Sarah Fain Has Starfish Envy.)

6. My essay about identity and motherhood earlier this week on the Motherlode blog at the New York Times drew a lot of comments, some supportive and some scathing. But I felt better when I read this article – also in the New York Times – about anonymous internet bullying.

7. I also felt better because amid those many and varied comments, I met the amazing Cecilia of Only You. Read her post on why she’s a writer-blogger. One of the great things about blogging is that you make new friends. Yay for that!

And speaking of friends, please do follow me on Twitter!

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Improve A Long-Term Relationship

April 21, 2010

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

This week’s post goes to the heart of keeping a long-standing relationship going. If you’re in one – whether with a partner, a spouse or even a roommate – you know that over time, things can get a bit stale. You start having the same fights over and over. You start completing your partner’s sentences, in a way that breeds boredom rather than intimacy. You know – with agonizing specificity – exactly what the other person likes to eat for breakfast.

So it’s time to shake things up a bit. Change the routine. And also change the way you act towards the other person. You’ll be surprised how well it works. Here are five concrete suggestions for how to do this:

1. Make a small gesture. Happiness blogger Gretchen Rubin lists “Give Proofs of Love” as one of her resolutions. By which she means that it’s as important to demonstrate your love to someone else as it is to love them. Perhaps even more important. There are lots of ways to show someone you love them. You can buy them a new car. Book an appointment with a career counselor. Decorate their room with their favorite things. But you can also do small things. In my case, I noticed one morning that my husband’s toast had popped out of the toaster and was ready to be buttered. While that’s not normally something I’d do for him (speaking of breakfast routines), one day I decided that I’d do it, just to be nice. Guess what? He noticed. And thanked me. Then I did it again. He thanked me again. And I realized how even a tiny gesture can speak volumes.

2. Defer to your partner on a decision. If you’re in a long-term relationship, chances are you’re making loads of decisions together all the time: where to live, which school to send the kids to, how to balance career/family. Some of those can and must be done together. But occasionally a decision will come along where you can afford not to weigh in as much as you otherwise might. In my case, it’s our upcoming move. I’m a bit of a control freak. (In case you haven’t noticed.) And in an ideal world, I’d probably approach our move somewhat differently than my husband would. But I decided a few weeks ago that I was going to defer to him on this one. He’s less spastic (for lack of a better word) than I am about moving. And it just seemed like a real shame to try to micro-manage this particular event in our lives (and all the stress, anxiety and quarrels that would likely provoke), so I  just let him take the lead. And you know what? We’re both more relaxed about it now.

3. Make A Sanctuary. Once you’ve spent years in a relationship of any sort, it’s easy to start letting other parts of your individual lives (work, kids, relatives) invade your space together. Try not to let this happen. Obviously, you can’t seal off your relationship completely. But you can at least try to protect it. I had one set of friends (a couple) who made a rule that “all work stays at the door.” By which they meant that their bedroom would be a sanctuary. They were both allowed to work in the evening – they had to, sometimes – but when they were finished working, all work had to stay by the door literally outside their bedroom. I thought this was a great idea.

4. Carve out Time. Of course, a sanctuary isn’t any good to you unless you actually spend some time there. So in addition to demarcating your private space, you need also to do things together inside it. Whatever you enjoy most. In my own case, my husband and I try to set aside time every night to talk about the day and then watch something together – a DVD commentary, a BBC documentary, The Daily Show. Another couple I know makes a point of eating dinner together every night after their daughter goes to sleep (*he* cooks, mind you!), even if it’s 9:30 or 10 o’clock at night.  Still another couple I know takes a run together once a week in the morning and stops for tea mid-way through. It doesn’t really matter what you do, but that you do it together.

5. Go On An Overnight Getaway. Ok, this advice may be less good for the room mates at hand. But if you’re in a long-term romantic relationship, a great way to re-ignite that flame is to go on an adventure. If you can’t afford to pay for a hotel and sitter, then see if you can send your kids to a friend or relative and have the night to yourselves in your own home. That can be just as fun. If you can afford to splurge once in a while, it’s well worth the effort. We had some friends in Chicago who spent the entire weekend of their 10th anniversary at a hotel in downtown Chicago just 9 miles away from where the live. They had a blast. Last week, we managed to finagle a free room in a fancy hotel in London while my mother was visiting. True, we were on the smoking floor. But I can’t tell you how much fun it was to get dressed up and go down to Soho and have dinner at  a chic restaurant on a Thursday night and then amble back (at a leisurely pace!) to our fancy digs. Bliss!

*****

For those who are interested, hop on over to PoliticsDaily.com to see why I think Nick Clegg has fundamentally changed the nature of British electoral politics.


Image: Toasts by Electric Bielka via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Parenting: Discovering How Your Kids See You

April 20, 2010

As someone who writes personal essays and blogs, I frequently use my family for material. I’ve written about my husband’s obsession with gadgetry, my son’s first exposure to sex ed and my daughter’s penchant for cross-dressing.

So I guess it was inevitable that sooner or later, the tables would be turned and I’d be the subject of something they wrote. Needless to say, this experience caught me off guard.

At the school my children attend in London, the head teacher solicits “half-term” projects from kids who want to do extra work. The kids write a report, she reads it and they get a certificate at assembly. It’s all good.

Each of my kids has jumped onboard enthusiastically with these assignments. My 8-year-old son has covered topics ranging from Tamerlane (his favorite Khan, as in Ghengis) … Team U.S.A. at the 2008 Olympics … and some of the more obscure “Star Wars” characters. (Plo Koon, anyone?)

My 5-year-old daughter’s reports have been a bit simpler: a reworking of the Cinderella narrative or a series of drawings with self-explanatory captions like “Pirate Louis Is a Pirate.”

Until now. A few days ago, my daughter declared that she’d like to do her half-term project on — wait for it — me. She asked me to download a few photographs from Picasa and then began to work in earnest.

Read the rest of this story at the New York Times Motherlode blog

Image: Writing Lesson by radioflyer007 via flickr under a Creative Commons License.


Crisis Management: Lessons From France

April 19, 2010

Hello, again.

I’m back. Well, sort of.

When last we met, I was on my way out the door for a glorious family vacation in the Loire Valley. While away, I had thoughts of coming home and posting on the lovely chateaus that we saw, the cool troglodyte dwellings that we visited, with a few gestures to French cuisine, bien sûr.

Oh, that is soooooooo 10 days ago.

Because shortly after touching down in my lovely adopted home, my country of residence became engulfed in a crisis of volcanic ash. It has paralyzed air travel for the past five days and has wrecked havoc on the economy, the schools, heck – even the flower stalls. You can read all about the volcano’s wider consequences for Britain on my post over on PoliticsDaily.com today.

But since we’re here now – and this is a place I sometimes come to vent, I thought that you might permit me a few moments of wingeing (to borrow a phrase from my adopted country.)

I think I first knew that I was in trouble when my husband and I went on our first “date night” (no, not quite of the Steve Carell/Tina Fey variety) last Thursday when this whole volcanic ash thing first erupted (no pun intended). We had miraculously won a free room in an upscale hotel in London for a night, and carefully arranged to book our room on a night when my mother would be visiting so as not to incur undnecessary babysitting fees. So far, so good.

But by the time we got down to the hotel that evening to check in, we were told that because of the volcanic ash, the hotel had only double bed still available, and it was on the smoking floor. The other rooms were all singles. Note: this is the *third* night that my husband and I have spent together without our kids in nine and a half years. Not exactly what we had in mind. (As it happened, the room itself was OK but the hallway required the use of a gas mask.)

And things went downhill from there. You see, everybody I know is stranded somewhere right now. I’ve been getting Facebook updates all day from friends who are in Rome, Dubai, San Diego, The Algarve or never even managed to leave London because of this thing. In our case, it’s my mother who’s stranded. She was scheduled to leave London this past Saturday. They are currently telling her she might get out *next* Saturday.

Which would be fine, of course, except that we’re about to move. So in addition to all the boxes and check lists and endless organizational trivia that accompanies a move (I finally got the official change of address form from the Post Office today!), we also have a house guest. Thank goodness she likes to read a lot.

So, all in all, I’m feeling pretty stressed (unlike this lady in the New York Times who seems to have taken her inadvertent London vacation in stride.)

Which brings me back to France (as all things eventually must.)

When we got off of the Eurostar in Paris, we were greeted by the news that there was a rail strike in the country that would affect most major rail journeys for the duration of our trip. And – true to form – we not only missed our train to the Loire Valley, but had to wait three hours for the next train, where we literally sat in the aisles all the way down to Tours.

As Americans, we aren’t really used to powerful labor unions. It’s just not part of the political fabric of our country in any meaningful way. So we were perplexed, outraged and vocally fuming about this massive and unforeseen change to our trip.

In France, in contrast, strikes are a part of life. They happen all the time. And while they may annoy and inconvenience the French, they don’t fundamentally get to them. “Ce n’est pas gràve” is a phrase one hears quite often.

And it was true. Instead of moaning and complaining throughout the course of this incredibly cramped two-hour journey, people were smiling, chatting, and drinking wine. They just weren’t treating it as “gràve.” And the more I watched them, the more I realized that they had the perfect attitude towards this whole mess. Why feel lousy over something you can’t control? There’s no point.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the French since the volcanic ash crisis took over my life a few days back. And every time I feel myself wanting to rage against the machine, I try to remind myself “Ce n’est pas gràve.” And it helps.

Plus, I just feel more French when I do it.

Stay tuned.

Image: Early Morning Spectacle by Storm Crypt via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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