I almost didn’t go to the wedding of my best friend from high school last Sunday. I’d just returned with my family from my dad’s funeral in California. The wedding in Maui was 11 hours of flight time from Ohio. I wanted to give my third child a real 6th birthday party to make up for having had his birthday days after his adored grandpa died.
But still, it was my best friend’s wedding, a transformational weekend in the lives of dear friends. I had a toast to give and a surprise slideshow in the works. I got on the plane. And I breathed in happiness all weekend.
I have a lot of brain food on the menu today – usually I try to mix it up with some lighter fare, but I suppose I’ve been in a Deep Thoughts state of mind these last couple of months. At the end, I’ve highlighted some of my favorite recipes for a Memorial Day gathering. Welcome summer!
I salute veteran political writer Peggy Noonan for calling foul on language used against women in the public eye in her Wall Street Journal essay, America’s Real War on Women. And that was even before the Drudge Report recoiled in shock recently when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a public appearance in Bangladesh without makeup (the horror of it!). Don’t get me started.
I recently came across this 2008 piece from the Atlantic, Marry Him! The Case for Settling for Mr Good Enough. It’s grounded, grandma-style realism to combat Disney fantasies of Prince Charming or Twilight visions of stormy romance. If you missed it too, its timeless message (“Get your head out of the clouds, girlfriend!”) is still worth reading – and passing along.
In The Non-Joie of Parenting, Jennifer Conlin from the New York Times presents a rebuttal to Bringing up Bebe (the book excerpted in the Wall Street Journal feature, Why French Mothers are Superior). The author, an American who lived in France with her three children and now lives back in the United States with two teens, says that while the French approach – firm, confident parents and well-behaved children who know their place – works in the ordered support system of France, it doesn’t easily translate to the hectic scheduling of America.
Back in the US, Conlin is run just as ragged as the rest of us, shuttling kids around with hardly time for a meal, let alone a family meal. For better and worse, this is our current system.
Every culture is different. The Asian Tiger parent mandates excellence and discipline. The French parent teaches kids their place. And the American parent drives children around endlessly, cheering them on at every stop.
As a result, Asian kids are academically successful but often emotionally defeated. French children are well-behaved but perhaps uninspired. And American kids are confident, perhaps more than is justified.
For me, the most interesting realization from the article is the impact of societal structures. In France, kids have a half-day of school Wednesday that allows for a full afternoon for extracurricular activities. In Brussels, there are playground cafes, where parents can socialize while their children play.
In America, we have travel sports teams for 9-year-olds that expect families to make full-day drives and overnight stays for one child’s games. With school budgets tight, we’ve lost “extras” during the school day – art, music, foreign language, physical education – for which parents feel compelled to compensate outside of school hours.
It’s enlightening to see examples of different parenting cultures. We may have the system we deserve – this is a relentlessly energetic nation. Or in our innovation we may create a better way.
Arsenic in our Chicken?
Reading about our food supply is enough to make you push away your plate. But I think it’s important to know what we’re putting into our bodies. This New York Times piece by Nick Kristoff, Arsenic in our Chicken?, is an eye-opening look at what goes into the chicken we eat.
We vote every day with our food dollars, and what we choose to buy sends a message to the food industry. Collectively we can make a difference.
Puberty Before Age 10: A New Normal?
The thought of my eight-year-old daughter starting puberty soon makes my stomach turn. Whether the cause is hormones in our animal products, plastics in our environment, or some other factor, early puberty is an undeniable trend in modern life. If you have a daughter or granddaughter, read this piece from the New York Times.
Travel the world for free by staying with strangers? New Yorker reporter Patricia Marx found it’s not just for the under-25 crowd. With nearly four million registered users worldwide, CouchSurfing is an online community of friendly travelers and hosts that engenders confidence by providing an eBay-like rating system for both.
My friend David has couch surfed for years, which has enabled him to travel on a budget and meet friends from around the world along the way. It’s not something I can do with my large family, but for single travelers it’s an inspired way to travel through the eyes and hospitality of locals. And, as the New Yorker reports, many people host couch surfers as a way of bringing the world into their home.
Either way, it’s an amazing cross-cultural concept that works, with payment in goodwill instead of money. Brilliant.
Patricia Marx was also on NPR’s Talk of the Nation this week.
Memorial Day recipes
- Orzo with zucchini, lemon, mint and feta – I could eat this all day, warm or cold. Fantastic side dish if you are grilling, and also makes a darned good vegetarian main.
- Mom’s barbecue chicken – The Barefoot Contessa also has a tomato-based recipe with hoisin sauce, but to me my mom’s is the best and first.
- Quinoa arugula salad – Another great side or a light meal in itself.
- Greek salad or California greek salad (with avocado) – No wilted greens in this beautiful crunchy salad. An easy crowd pleaser.
- Strawberry oatmeal shortcakes with maple vanilla cream – Moist oatmeal scones with juicy strawberries are heavenly enough. But the maple vanilla cream puts it over the top.
- Mascarpone cream cake with boozy berries – I love this gorgeous cake for summer birthdays.
- Minty lemonade – When fresh lemonade is on hand, no one asks for soda or a juice box. I make it straight up for the kids but love the mint for adults.
Thank you all
I’ve been so grateful for all your condolence notes, both on and off the site. Your kind words mean so much to me, and I am slowly getting back to each one of you. But I also wanted to send out one giant hug to this heartwarming community. Thank you all.