Happy Holidays: I’m In NYC!

December 21, 2010

Hi there. Just popping in to say that I’m in the States for the next two weeks visiting family and friends so will probably not be materializing on this blog too often.

I felt guilty about this, until the splendid Nicola Morgan over at the Help! I Need a Publisher! blog gave me (and all bloggers near and far) permission not to write during this holiday period. So because I always listen to what Nicola says, I’m going to heed her advice and take a break.

I look forward to catching up with you in January.

(P.S.: Image is from the Nutcracker, which we saw last night at the New York City Ballet. Soooo fabulous!)

Happy Holidays!

Image: Adam the Nutcracker Prince by LCPhotog via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

December 17, 2010

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

1. I was really moved by this beautiful account of a mother’s death by Ann Hulbert in The American Scholar.

2. This is fun:  the digital story of Nativity.

3. More Christmas fun: Ros Asquith gives us a tour of her Christmas cartoons for the Education page at the Guardian. Especially funny if you’re familiar with the British education system.

4. I won’t be in London for Christmas this year, so I really appreciated this walking tour of Christmas Lights in London over at ‘Cross the Pond.

5. Finally, if you are *still* hard pressed to find a Christmas gift for that special someone – and Tim Minchin didn’t do it for you – may I recommend my friend Laurie Gould’s CD – Domestic Bliss – over at Gould Tunes. When you visit, you can listen to her very latest tune, “Home For The Holidays.”

Have a great weekend!

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Christmas Gift Recommendation: Tim Minchin DVD

December 16, 2010

My husband and I went to a concert Tuesday night. It was a belated celebration of his birthday, which falls in July.

The reason we waited so long to celebrate isn’t that we were too busy back in the Summer or couldn’t manage to drag ourselves out for dinner. (That does happen sometimes, but it rarely takes five months to rectify.)

No.  The reason we waited five months is that right about the time that I was going to buy him a present, I got an email announcing that our very favorite stand up comic – make that really the *only* stand up comic we’ve ever listened to properly – was coming to London for a live performance at the O2 arena.

So I immediately booked the tickets and then ran out and bought a CD of said comic for my husband as a sort of “place holder” birthday gift, in anticipation of the real thing.

The comic’s name? He’s called Tim Minchin. He’s a bare-footed, mascara-wearing, red-haired Australian. And here’s the kicker:  he’s also a singer-songwriter and piano player. So about 90% of his act are his songs, with a few jokes and stories thrown in here and there.

And he is brilliant:  funny, irreverent, profane, absurd and just a little bit mad.

We first saw Minchin on the erstwhile Jonathan Ross show, which was – until last summer – the top late night talk show here in the U.K. And we knew right away that he was the guy for us. (I mean c’mon…when you love musical theatre as much as I do, the prospect of having someone *sing* their jokes to you is just way too appealing…)

There’s something really exciting about going to hear a performer you love live, even – perhaps especially – when you don’t…um…get out all that much anymore. (BTW? I’d say the average age in the arena last night was late 20s. When a grey haired couple walked in, I practically ran over and embraced them.)

What I like most about Minchin – apart from his hysterical lyrics – is the unadulterated joy he seems to take from his work. He really looks like he’s having a ball up there on stage, and his enthusiasm is infectious.

More importantly, when you watch Minchin perform – and much like another fave of mine whom I’ve also seen live, the writer and singer/song-writer Garrison Keillor – you get the sense that this oddball decided early on in life that he wasn’t going to give a toss what other people thought about him. He was going to choose a path – in this case, playing the piano bare-footed – that worked for him. And if he looked and sounded weird, so be it. He would be true to himself.

I don’t know about you, but to me that’s what it’s all about.

So if you’re still wondering what on earth to get that special someone for Christmas this year, let me make a suggestion: a Tim Minchin DVD.

Have a listen. And enjoy!

Image: Tim Minchin Nine Lessons and Carols For Godless People by nadworks via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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Tips For Adulthood: Five “Comfort Activities” When You’re Sick

December 15, 2010

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I spent most of last week in bed, shaking off a flu.

I really fight against being ill. On some fundamental level, I don’t want to accept that my defenses are down and that I can’t accomplish what I normally do in a day. So I spend a lot of time feeling frustrated when I’m sick, which is, of course, not only pointless but counter-productive.

But then I read this great post over on Daily Plate of Crazy about how Big Little Wolf woke up one day feeling really lousy and decided that even though it meant tossing out her “interminable checklist,” she accepted that she was ill and had a really nice day in, reading magazines and watching chick flicks.

And that made me realize that if you re-frame it, being sick can actually be a nice excuse to relax and engage “comfort activities” that you might not allow yourself during your normal routine. And I vowed that the next time I’m ill, I’m going to approach it with a whole new outlook. Here are five things to do when you’re sick:

1. Play Board Games. I’m a huge fan of board games. And, once again this year, I have used Hanukkah as an excuse to replenish our supply. (This year’s additions include Backgammon, Risk and Battleship.) The drawback (and advantage) of board games like these is that they can take several hours to play. And so you really need to clear an entire afternoon or evening, which can be tough to manage during “normal times.” But when you’re sick, you’ve got nothing better to do. So assuming you can actually sit up, playing a board game is an excellent way to spend a sick day.

2. Watch Old Movies. I’m not sure why, exactly, but watching old movies is another great comfort activity when you’re not feeling your best. In theory, any film should do, right? But there’s something particularly soothing about old movies. My daughter’s school is performing Oliver! for the Christmas play this year so we happened to have a copy of the film lying around last weekend. And so all four of us snuggled up in our bed and watched Oliver! as a family. Lovely.

3. Drink Tea. I don’t drink much tea these days. I’m more of an espresso-brewing gal. But when I’m sick, I take a hiatus from coffee and drink only tea. And I *always* enjoy that. There’s nothing that screams relaxation quite as much as a large mug of tea. Preferably with sugar and milk. Yum.

4.Take a nap. This has got to be the classic comfort activity that I routinely deny myself during my “normal life.” Despite all the research showing that taking a 30 minute nap every afternoon is really conducive to productivity, I never, ever nap unless I’m feeling ill. But when I’m sick, I allow myself this luxury and boy, is it worth it every time.

5. Read a guilty pleasure. This will vary from person to person. I don’t read women’s magazines so that’s never going to be a comfort activity for me. But I did find my eye straying to the pile of “to be read” books by my bedside table – you know, the ones that you really want to read but always feel you *should* be reading something else? So after, like, I don’t know…8 years?, I finally picked up Michael Lewis’ Liar’s Poker and plunged in. Just like that. So glad I did.

OK, so you know where I’m going with this, right? If these things are all so fantastic, then why don’t I incorporate them into my regular routine?

I’m working on it, folks. Really I am.

*****

For those who are interested, here’s my latest piece in Politics Daily on the woman in Iran sentenced to death by stoning.

Image: Nightime tea pot by racineur via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

December 10, 2010

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

1. I was really moved by my colleague Melinda Henneberger’s tribute to Elizabeth Edwards over at Politics Daily.

2. Equally moving was this tribute by my colleague Mia Navarro to a close friend she lost to AIDS, also at Politics Daily.

3. On the New York Times Motherlode blog, Laura Shumaker tells us about what happens when children go missing.

4. Perhaps because I’ve been beset by flu myself all week, I was really drawn to this account  in the Los Angeles Times by writer Meghan Daum of her recent, inexplicable hospitalization. (Hat tip: Lisa Romeo Writes)

5. Here’s the interview I did with Al Jazeera (English) on the media coverage of Tony Blair and George W. Bush’s memoirs. (Segment starts around 12:20)

6. An odd and inspiring story:  the best-selling song in Germany for the past eight weeks is a cover of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” by a now deceased, Hawaiian ukelele player named Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. Apparently, the song just keeps on inspiring. Have a listen.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Manage Conflict Effectively

December 8, 2010

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I think we’ve all been in a situation where something goes wrong – with a colleague, with a friend, with a family member – and our first inclination is to kick or scream or throw things, or just open the window and yell “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” (Oh, sorry. Is that just me?)

But then cooler heads prevail and we realize that we actually need to manage the conflict, rather than just vent.

Here are five suggestions for how to manage conflict effectively:

1. Call, don’t write. A friend of mine who works in corporate America once told me that one of the very first things she learned at her job was that the minute you have a professional conflict with someone, you pick up the phone. Never, ever email. And that’s because – according to her at least – there’s greater room for misinterpretation when you write something, whereas in speech you can be more direct. As a writer, my instinct is *always* to write to people when there’s potential discord because I feel I can control the message better. But ever since she told me that, I’ve reconsidered. The other reason, of course – and pace the recent WikiLeaks scandal – is that once you put something in writing, it lives on ad infinitum. And then it can come back to haunt you.

2. If you must write, assume everyone is reading it. Which brings me to point two. For me, the potential perils of email were really brought home this past summer, when my Politics Daily colleague Andrew Cohen wrote a much-trafficked love letter to his ex on our news site entitled “On Her Wedding Day: Saying Things Left Unsaid.” My colleague Lizzie Skurnick then published a response to Andrew’s post entitled “How Not To Congratulate Your Ex On Her Wedding Day.” And then some emails ensued between the two of them which led to this and this. (If you aren’t cringing by now, you should be.)

3. Write an email, but don’t send it. I was once offered a job when I was first on the academic job market which I turned down – albeit with some remorse. And I felt so badly about turning it down that I composed this incredibly long, heartfelt explanation to the Department Chair. And then I threw it away. Because when I woke up the next morning, I realized that the letter was really written for me, rather than for him. In a similar vein, I’ve taken lately to writing out long emails to people I’m angry with and then not publishing them. As a writer, putting my thoughts down on the page helps me to express and even clarify my feelings, but without experiencing any of the blowback discussed in point #2.

4. Try to see it through their eyes. I got an email the other day that really irritated me. It was condescending. It was territorial. And it was bitchy. Or at least so I thought the first time I read it through. And I spent a good deal of the night composing a response (in my head) that I seriously debated sending to this person, despite my advice in #3. But when I came downstairs the next morning, I re-read the email and decided that – even though I was pretty sure that my initial reaction was justified – there was conceivably another way to read said email that put it in a more favorable light. And so – taking Gretchen Rubin’s maxim – “act the way we want to feel”  – to heart, I willed myself to reinterpret the original email as more benign so that I, too, could feel more positively towards this person. And then I just ignored it.

5. Write a letter. This may sound like it contradicts point #1 – and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it in a professional setting. But sometimes I think that writing a good, old-fashioned letter can go a long way towards smoothing over differences between friends and family. For starters, in an internet age, everyone appreciates that letter-writing has gone the way of the horse and buggy. So when people take the time to actually write down their thoughts – with a pen! – it shows how much they matter to you. Second, while most people like their emails short and digestible, it’s O.K. to write a long letter and to really elaborate on what you’re feeling. I once did this with a friend and it really saved our friendship.

How about you? What strategies do you employ to manage conflict?

Image: Writing Samples: Parker 75 by churl via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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PTA Burnout: Is Parent Volunteering A Waste Of Time?

December 7, 2010

I was walking down the street the other day when I saw an attractive-looking poster advertising a Christmas fair. As I stopped to read the fine print, I did a double take. The fair was the one held annually at my daughter’s school. And for the first time in four years, I realized that I had no earthly idea how many raffle tickets we’d sold. Nor had I been the one to obtain the local business sponsor for the fair.

And then I remembered: Oh, yeah, right. I’m not on the PTA anymore.

As I wrote about several months ago on this blog, there’s a natural life cycle to being a member of the PTA. You come in — usually when your kids are new to the school. You do your thing — raise some money, run some bake sales, or in my case, achieve an alter-ego, rock star-like status in your community as “Raffle Lady,” which you’ll never quite manage to shake.

And then some combination of increased work demands, changing family priorities and one too many times jamming the PTA laminator sets in. And you hand off to the next gang, who come to that very first organizational meeting in September brimming with exactly the same irrepressible enthusiasm you once evinced, but now can barely manage to fake.

Read the rest of this post at http://www.PoliticsDaily.com…

*****

I’ve been on the Julian Assange beat this week. Here’s a longer post previewing his arrest at Politics Daily, and here’s a short update now that he’s been arrested. Stay tuned, folks!

Image: Fondant Roses and Colorflow Butterflies by angegreen via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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