Let us therefore eat and drink

A few months ago I made a very important discovery. I now know what I will eat for my last supper should I ever be executed. There's a gastropub in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood that serves the most decadent sandwich known to man or woman: cashew butter, fig jam, and fried cheese on sourdough. Words fail. To top it off, they serve it with Stilton mac & cheese and frites (actually, homemade chips, but you can substitute frites, which you should do because their frites are to die for (heh)). Mac & cheese AND fries? On the same goddamn plate? Picture me pushing you hard in the chest and shouting Get OUT because that about sums it up. But wait, there's more. Hopleaf, the genius behind this Plate of Perfection, also has a 16-page beer menu. Do they let you drink beer with your last supper when you're executed? I submit that it's unconstitutionally cruel and unusual if not. So Trent and I have been back multiple times and each time I have ordered this exact same thing. I can't even bring myself to try the chips. Bcecause why mess with perfection? Afterward we walk down the street to George's Ice Cream & Sweets for a waffle cone, because the CB&J with mac and frites and beer wasn't enough for my arteries. Oh, bliss.


Where be his quiddities now, his quillets, his cases, his tenures, and his tricks?

I'm really confused about how to raise my son these days. After reading this article by Alfie Kohn I bought his book Unconditional Parenting and started reading it over the weekend. He likens timeouts to solitary confinement, which sounds a little crazy but I think I actually agree with his point that the basic premise of timeouts is withholding love to coerce your kid into blind obedience. But I worry that ideas like this are the reason well-meaning parents raise out-of-control kids who desperately need someone to give them some boundaries. I don't want to make that mistake. But I also want my kid to do the right thing because it's the right thing, not because it's what I/the government/his friends tell him he should do.

I have no answers to that one so I'm just going to move along to another subject: special thanks to ResidentMommy for freaking me the hell out, um, I mean helpfully reminding me, with this chart that I'm sliding quickly toward infertility ... I'd been thinking it would be best to wait til Nugget starts to be more independent, like when he starts school, before having his sister (I didn't care about Nugget's sex, but now that I already have a boy I desperately want the matched set) but I had forgotten that I am already 30--oops, I mean 31, haha sigh--and I don't have the luxury to wait. Ah, mortality.

Lapland sorcerers inhabit here

I was very excited albeit a little puzzled recently to receive an email from a PR rep asking me to post about a retail site ... I am guessing their bar for how many readers a blog has to have is pretty low. Also, much as I love shopping, especially online, I don't think I've ever blogged about it so I'm not sure why they targeted me. Nonetheless, the info they sent me is worth passing on for two reasons -- one, I love a deal, and two, it's for a good cause. So:

Discount high-end makeup retailer BeautyTicket.com will donate 10% of proceeds to BreastCancer.org (a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing the most reliable, complete, and up-to-date information on breast cancer) when you enter the code “AWARENESS” at checkout, plus U.S. customers who use the code will get free shipping on all orders over $50.

Speaking of which, I do not understand why any online retailers charge for shipping. I really hate paying for shipping. Sometimes I will get all the way to checkout, do my usual check of retailmenot and similar sites for a free shipping or other discount coupon, and then decide not to buy the stuff after all because I can't get free shipping or an equivalent discount. On the other hand, I am a total sucker for the "spend this much, get free shipping" strategy. I am all about adding on stuff I don't need that costs more than the shipping did just so I don't pay for shipping.

p.s. I did not receive anything for posting about any of the sites referenced here. Also, I've never bought anything from BeautyTicket.com so this should not be construed as an endorsement.



This piece talks about many of the themes that are foremost in my mind lately -- in particular, the sad and frightening feeling that one's choices are increasingly limited as one grows older. Some choice quotes:

Some people flirt briefly with being freethinking bohemians before becoming
their parents.

Most of my married friends now have children, the rewards of which appear to be exclusively intangible and, like the mysteries of some gnostic sect, incommunicable to outsiders. In fact it seems from the outside as if these people have joined a dubious cult: they claim to be much happier and more fulfilled than ever before, even though they live in conditions of appalling filth and degradation, deprived of the most basic freedoms and dignity, and owe unquestioning obedience to a capricious and demented master.

Tim Kreider, The Referendum, NYT 9/17/09

(What is dogeared?)


Stay, illusion! If thou hast any sound, or use of voice, Speak to me

I had this idea that giving birth would unleash my dormant creative powers and I would suddenly be able to sit down and write. That hasn't happened. I was thinking yesterday about all the germs of novels that have floated in and out of my life -- all those concepts I toyed with and obsessed on and even researched, but never wrote about. Now many of them don't speak to me anymore, so they'll never be written. They are ghost novels, a record of my mental life that was never made. Those books are lost forever. Would they have been any good?


let us therefore eat and drink

We were out at the Chicago Botanic Gardens (I have lived in Chicago practically my whole life and, amazingly, only discovered this place recently--it is fabulous and currently my favorite place to take Nugget) the other day and wanted to get dinner afterward. I was really intent on having a good meal with a glass of wine but it had to be a kid-friendly place. The difficulty of which was really pissing me off. Why is there no Chuck E. Cheese for the foodie set??? I can't be the only parent who thinks this is a gap in the market.

It was also complicated by the fact that we were out in Glencoe and I don't know the suburbs at all. And frankly, I don't have a lot of faith in the quality of restaurants in the suburbs. Usually I would give in to my husband's passion for Fuddruckers, which we don't have in the city, but I really didn't want a hamburger. So we powered up the Garmin and scrolled through the nearby Italian restaurants, then decided to drive by two that were next to each other about a half-mile away. One was basically an outbuilding in the parking lot of the other, more upscale place. We went for the hole in the wall -- which was aptly named Francesco's Hole in the Wall.

It was FANTASTIC. I have to revise my prejudice against suburban restaurants. Slightly. They served hot, delicious garlic bread when we sat down, and kept bringing more (although I might have preferred they didn't because I couldn't resist the temptation to keep eating it). They had cheap house wine which was pretty good. My pasta was delicious, and Trent--who is a total snob about fresh seafood--enjoyed his pasta with lobstertail and various shellfish or whatever (I don't like shellfish so I tried not to notice what he was eating). And the best part is that the waitress was absolutely amazing about Nugget. She brought him ice cream and made him a rattle out of a takeout container with some creamers inside and generally tried to help us keep him happy so we could eat in peace. Soooo much better than Chuck E. Cheese.


A thing most brutish

Here's another raising-kids-in-the-city problem: teaching both stranger danger and kindness. We went to Millenium Park yesterday to show Nugget the bean and the giant-spitting-faces fountain. As Nugget was tottering around near the bean, a friendly older couple began exclaiming over him (who can blame them) and trying to get him to interact. And I encouraged him to be friendly, but I was thinking, how am I going to teach him not to talk to strangers when I ask him to be friendly toward them when I'm around?

It just occurred to me that I don't even want to teach him not to talk to strangers. Of course I will, I have to, but it sucks that I have to. It sucks that I have to teach my kid to act like the whole world is out to get him. How do you do that and still make your kid feel safe? How do you do that and still teach your kid to be friendly and polite to everyone?

A little later we walked by a lifesize bronze cow statue. Trent jumped astride its back and I put Nugget in front of him, and then stepped back to take a picture. A woman who looked like she might be crazy came toward us. She kept staring at us, smiling, and coming closer, seemingly fascinated. It was really heartbreaking. I took the picture quickly and we walked away, but I wished we didn't have to. I have to protect my child, but I want him to know that it is important to be kind to people. How do I balance those two things?

I want to say screw the conventional wisdom, I'm going to teach him to be a decent human being and not to live in fear. But there is real danger--that story about the girl who was snatched right in front of her stepfather and held captive for 20 years is really haunting me right now--and this is my baby we're talking about.


Come, shall we go and kill us venison?

I read this in a NYT book review yesterday:
Under what conditions are people willing to help others? Urbanites, or the
social dynamics of urbanism, have been particularly implicated in these
inquiries, whether by “diffusion of responsibility” — the more people who
are around, the less any one person feels compelled to act — or “information
overload,” the idea that city people must filter and limit what they take in,
including appeals for help. (Tom Vanderbilt, "Up from Calamity," Sep. 6, 2009)
It got me thinking about the implications of raising my kid in the city. I grew up in the city, and loved it, so I don't have any of the usual qualms about it. I suppose it would be nice to have a backyard, or to go out and catch frogs in a nearby pond (this, for some reason, is what I think of as the quintessential perk of growing up in a suburban/rural environment). But I don't feel like I missed out that much. I had other things instead--like the zoo that I used to visit just about every day on my way to school, the classes I took at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a fluency in jive. (One of those is a lie.)

But what effect does it have to grow up with that urban "filter"? Or, perhaps more importantly, the awareness that the people around you aren't interested in you or concerned about your welfare? Someone once told me that when she first started college at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, she smiled and said hello to absolutely everyone she encountered, because that's what she was used to in the small town where she grew up. In contrast, I sometimes don't even say hello to people I've met, because I assume they don't remember meeting me.

There's also that weird phenenomenon where you don't say hello to people you encounter repeatedly because they live in your neighborhood or they're in one of your classes--unless you encounter them somewhere unexpected, like an airport. I often think about this sort of thing in elevators--how bizarre it is to be in such close quarters with other people without acknowledging each other. If the elevator broke down and you had to wait hours for help or figure out a way to rescue yourselves, those people would become your lifeline. It's unnatural, but it's what you have to do to protect yourself when you share a small area with thousands of strangers. (Interesting fact: there were 12,750.5 people per square mile in Chicago according to the 2000 census.)

Would I have less difficulty with social interactions if I had grown up in a small town where everyone knew each other? Would I be less jaded about humanity?

I actually did know most of the people in my neighborhood growing up, and it was a fairly closeknit community. And we were part of other communities--my school, our church, my dad's work colleagues. It's probably important, when you raise your kid in a city, that you find and cultivate those types of relationships. I think one of the reasons my parents came to dislike the high school I went to is that they were never able to break into the parents' social circles and feel a part of that community. And that probably contributed to all the trouble I got into there. This is somewhat troubling because neither I nor my husband are very social. We could go weeks without interacting with anyone but each other and not even notice. I really want my son to be more outgoing, but I'm afraid both nature and nurture are working against him.

I do find it funny, however, that when you set Nugget down outside on anything but asphalt he is completely nonplussed. When we were at the beach a few weeks ago, it took him the whole first day to get used to the sand. The second day, some people came up to us and expressed shock that he'd started walking overnight--he was so thrown off by the sand that they'd assumed when watching us the day before that he wasn't walking yet.

In a related aside, yesterday we went applepicking at this fantastic farm about an hour west of Chicago. Nugget tried to bite the apples while they were still on the tree, and he went crazy for the cow they had on display. I do love a day in the country, especially when it involves fresh-baked apple-cider glazed doughnuts.


How now! a madman! Why, thou peevish sheep

Pet peeves

1. Misspelling the word "yay" as "yeah." I will accept "yea" although it is somewhat arcane, but I will not accept "yeah." "Yeah" means "yes." Imagine yelling "Yes!" when you mean to yell "Yay!" Douchey, isn't it? So don't be a douche. Learn to spell.

2. Misspelling in general. Seriously, how hard is it? It's not hard. I have no desire to think you are stupid, believe me. I want to believe the best of you. But if you cannot spell, I will not be able to help myself.

3. Using the right turn lane to jump ahead of a line of cars - if you try to do this to me I will gun my turbo-charged subaru and dare you to a game of chicken. Consider yourself warned.

4. Reclining on an airplane. If you happen to sit in front of me on a plane and you're wondering why your seat won't recline, it's because my knees are in the way. If I want your head in my lap, I'll let you know.

To be continued


the play's the thing

There is a picture on my sister-in-law's photo site of my nephew sitting on the most gigantic toy truck I've ever seen. He's sitting on it like it's a ride-on toy, and he's not a small 15-month-old. For some reason I feel that I should buy this truck for my son. Mind you, it's not so much that I "want" to buy it, it's that I feel I "should." I don't know, maybe it's some sort of sibling rivalry thing. (Although according to my mother there is no sibling rivalry in our family because each of us believes he or she already won.)

I love that it is so big you can sit on it. But I am also unwilling to buy it because it is so big, and I am picturing it in my house, and it is just so BIG. Now, this is odd. Because I didn't hesitate for a second to buy this enormous play tent, which dominates our living room. Maybe because this is a truck, not a tent, and kids don't have just one truck, they have multiple trucks, and I am afraid that if I start him on that kind of scale I will end up with an oversized traffic jam clogging my home.

I have a small condo in the city, my brother has a large house with yard in the suburbs. And it occurs to me: is this just the tip of the iceberg? It has already become clear that having my son trail my brother's son by three months is exacerbating the tendency to track my son's development with neurotic vigilance, something I'd already feared would be an issue given my personality and something I was determined to suppress. Now I am afraid that my nephew is going to become a focus for the worry that I should be raising my kid in the suburbs.

But back to this truck. My house (I almost changed that to "our house" out of consideration for my husband but decided the possessiveness that crops up in my pronouns when speaking of the domestic sphere is too interesting) is increasingly cluttered with toys. And I really don't mind. In fact I rather like it. I certainly prefer Nugget's colorful, happy clutter to the jumble of bills and legal files and magazines that collects around my husband. Ugh.

I am, however, somewhat reluctant to buy him a ton of toys. Why? Well, for one thing I really hate expending money and space on toys that he ignores. He'd much rather throw CDs on the floor, root around in the trash, and dump the dog's water bowl on his head. I suppose that will change as he gets older? I also am a bit wary of buying toys that he has to grow into. Like I'm contemplating a really nice set of wooden blocks for his birthday in a few weeks but I'm hesitating because I think they'll be bigger and heavier than is really appropriate right now. On the other hand I am reluctant to buy stuff he will grow out of quickly, which kind of leaves me in a bind. I also get really hung up on buying the "right" toys -- the stuff that encourages imagination and creativity, as opposed to stuff that maps out how he is supposed to play with it.

Frequently when I buy toys or consider buying toys, I actually research the BEST musical instrument set, the BEST water table, the BEST tricycle. It's a toy, for crying out loud.