My Trip to Door County, or, A Dissertation on the Cherry

Jason and I went up to Door County, WI this weekend. It was the first trip we’ve taken alone since Zoe was born and actually only the third trip we’ve ever taken just the two of us, which sounds completely ridiculous and unbelievable considering that we’ve been together for thirteen and a half years, but it’s true.

Some of my readership (Dad, Uncle Mark, Lisa – so, like, a third of my readership? Uncle Mark, do you in fact read this site?) has already seen Jason’s e-mails about this, but I’ll tell it from my perspective, too.

For those of you who don’t know, Door County, Wisconsin is the county that covers that peninsula sticking into the top of Lake Michigan.

door county map

It’s a resort-ish collection of towns, with adorable little downtowns that have adorable tchotchke shops (and I have to ask – how do people who don’t know Yiddish describe stores like the ones in resort towns all over the country?) and places where you can rent boats or bikes or mopeds or go parasailing or fishing or play golf or, you know, do vacation-y things.

It is also the home of the cherry.

And whitefish. Lots of whitefish. But more cherries.

Day Zero

So Wednesday Jason took Zoe to his parents’ house when he got home from work. I had to run out of the house, too, and because we’ve been on the move constantly, I hadn’t really realized that once I left the house, I wouldn’t see Zoe for FIVE WHOLE DAYS. So then I got all sad and choked up and she was being the sweetest little girl ever, saying good-bye so nicely, and she’d miss me for 100,000. (This is a thing now.) And giving me lots of kisses while also being totally cool about it, because she was SUPER-EXCITED to stay at her grandparents’ for five days.

Then on my way home there was a major thunderstorm. So that was cool.

Jason and I had intended to be ready to go so that we could just roll out of bed and into the car and get passed Milwaukee before rush hour.

That did not happen.

You guys, we’re kind of tired. We’ve been travelling a lot.

So Jason brought me Yu’s from Schaumburg around 9 o’clock. We watched an episode of “Mad Men” (I am so in favor of Peggy banging Stan, btw. I mean, if she’s looking to me for approval, she’s got it.) and went to bed, and then packed in the morning. Which meant we didn’t leave until basically after rush hour was over. Which is also fine.

Day One

We arrived in Door County in mid-afternoon and checked in to our hotel, The Coachlite Inn, in Sister Bay. It had a giant rainbow flag outside, as did a lot of places, and I have to say, I’m not totally sure if Door County is especially gay-friendly, or if it’s so rural and innocent that they don’t know what the rainbow flag means and just use it to help you spot the driveways. But the hotel was nice. Big jacuzzi in the bathroom. Clean. Friendly. Free, unpassworded wifi. Which would turn out to be important because our service sucked everywhere that was not our hotel room.

Anyway, after settling in a bit, we headed over to Fish Creek, which has the highest concentration of adorableness on one strip of road. The road being 42, which is what all things are on. Want to go to Fish Creek? Head south from Sister Bay on 42. Want to go to Washington Island? Head north on 42 until it goes into the water. The ferry will be on your left. Want to go to the movies? Keep going south on 42 until you see a movie theater. It’s convenient.

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So we shopped in Fish Creek. Got some cherry fudge. Looked at tchotchkes. There was this one store with lots of leather jackets and furniture made from branches and real hide rugs and stuff. There was this hooded poncho made of strips of fur that I thought was hilarious. I loved the wood furniture with the legs all twisted branches and the surfaces like you’d just taken a slice of tree. There was also this really cool piece made of different colored stone to look like a rapids across the table top.

Jason fell in love with these Australian opal-and-amethyst rings and decided Zoe needed one.

I ask you.

She’s going to be demanding, like, a Dior prom dress and he’s just going to go, “But she’ll like it so much!”

Anyway, I also went into the Alexander Noble Home. Alexander Noble was one of the earliest settlers of Fish Creek and his home was designed more or less by his oldest daughter – they had a copy of the plan she gave the carpenter and everything. She made her bedroom the biggest. The house actually stayed in the family until 1995, which is pretty impressive. And the house was showing all sorts of Victorian (and later) wedding things, which was neat. I had a nice chat with the guide about my wedding and also the morals of young kids these days, and I learned some things. That device that someone had given to Zoe’s preschool that I couldn’t figure out? Coffee grinder. They had one, too. Victorian ladies used to make jewelry out of their hair. Oh, and my favorite thing – they would have a cake for the general guests, then a groom’s cake, and then also a lady’s cake, for the bridesmaids. And they’d have ribbons on the bridesmaids’ cake that the bridesmaid would pull out and at the end there’d be a little favor for her! Like a ring or a pin or something! Isn’t that cute?

After we finished shopping we wanted dinner. Jason chose the place with cherry barbecue ribs on the menu, even though I thought it looked a little too corporate. And it was. But cherry barbecue sauce is a good idea and I got some cherry jam so I could try it this summer, and I had a drink of cherry brandy, honey-jalepeno syrup, and club soda that was pretty good and would be better if the ratio were a little less club-soda-skewed.

There was a mini-golf place right next to our hotel so we went there that evening. I had been avoiding playing mini-golf with Jason because I have memories of sucking at it and I thought he’d make fun of me and I would lose and hold everyone up and it would be awful. But he really wanted to play so I said okay, I’ll play.

And you know what? I didn’t suck. I was fine. Not good or anything. But fine. He only beat me by 3 points, and we were neck and neck most of the time. So that felt good. Healed some childhood trauma for me.

Day Two

We wanted to bike on Washington Island, which is the island off the tip of the peninsula there.

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So after some cereal at the hotel, we drove up 42 until we got to the ferry. Well, at one point we almost took a different ferry, but in the end we sorted ourselves out and got on the boat.

We were crossing the little bit of water that gives the county its name. See, some time ago, the Potawami tribe occupied Door County. Then the Winnebago tribe (Yeah, it’s a tribe, not just an RV company. I learn something new every day.) went on a murderous rampage and took the peninsula by force. The Potawami who survived escaped to Washington Island. The Winnebago decided to pursue them there, but as their best warriors headed in their canoes across the 6-mile passage, a storm kicked up and dashed the warriors on the rocks, killing them all. That passage – which was entirely peaceful when we headed across it – became known as “Death’s Door.”

Jason crossing Death's Door. Does he look scared?

Jason crossing Death’s Door. Does he look scared?

So we headed across the door of death to Washington Island, and got on our bikes. We biked through a couple of miles of nothing – including four pieces of waterfront property for sale; I thought we could maybe buy them all and open a sleep-away camp or maybe a luxury resort. Then we turned on the Main Road, which the map I had seemed to indicate would have some cutesiness on it. But you know what Washington Island has on it?

Not much.

We pulled over where the “cherry train” trolley tour had stopped, at a general store – not a cutesy one – and a book store which was not open for business yet. Whether for the day or for the summer was difficult to tell. The non-cutesy general store also did not have both the gold and the red verjus (and not green and gold, like Jason indicated in his e-mails) that was made on the island, and which I need to make virtually anything from my Shakespeare’s Kitchen cookbook, so we moved on.

We biked all the way up Main Road, which continued to host farms and little else, and then turned in to go to Schoolhouse Beach. Schoolhouse Beach is one of only five beaches in the world that has limestone rocks instead of sand. It was the most awesome place I’ve ever seen, except the Negev desert. It was small, surrounded by cedars, and entirely made up of these perfect, smooth limestone rocks. Which had spiders living under them. And the forest was full of mosquitos. But it was truly beautiful.

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And then we looked up and saw a sun halo!

See the mosquitoes?

See the mosquitoes?

Only we didn’t know it was a sun halo! Because we didn’t have any service of any kind for our iPhones! So I thought maybe it was the end of the world. But a beautiful end.

We biked back down Main Road and stopped at the one cafe we saw, which happened to also be the one cafe I’d picked out in the guide book as the one I wanted to go to. It was called Bread + Water cafe, and it was a restaurant, bakery, kayak shop and museum, possibly the center of some sort of community service project, AND had free Wifi. That was when we looked up the sun halo thing and reassured ourselves that the end was NOT nigh. But it was the most adorable place.

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Kind of Jesus-y. You could request a prayer along with your not-from-powder lemonade. And the woman who sat us and seemed to manage or possibly own the place seemed very surprised when we walked in and wanted to order a meal. I got the impression that she usually knew personally the people who came in. She seemed to know everyone else there. And by everyone else, I mean the two waiters, who were young teenagers and may have been part of this community outreach program, their family members who were in the restaurant sitting with the proprietress when we walked in, and maybe three others, at least one of which I thought probably had an intimate relationship with marijuana. Jason had a very delicious-looking ham-and-cheese sandwich with homemade slaw, and I had them combine the two salads on the menu so that mine had spinach AND apples AND bacon AND almonds AND feta AND – naturally – cherries. It was really good. I wasn’t expecting much when I saw how low-rent an operation this was, but it was a damn good salad.

And we finally had a slice of cherry pie. Thank God. They were going to kick us out of Door County any second.

See that plate with the flowers? I think my great-aunts had those plates.

See that plate with the flowers? I think my great-aunts had those plates.

And I got my verjus at the grocery store across the street, along with some chocolate-covered dried cherries. So that was good.

We made the 2 o’clock ferry back and then went back to refresh ourselves and then had dinner at a family-owned diner in Sister Bay called Grasse’s, where I had some truly excellent white fish. And we had some cherry ice cream, too. We took a walk on the pier and then returned home for the night. The biking had wiped us out pretty good.

Day Three

I had been told of Al Johnson’s, the Door County institution with live goats on its roof, and it was right there in Sister Bay, so we went for breakfast. It’s a Swedish establishment with a “butik” that was apparently the first store in Door County to sell, in 1974, bikinis. Scandalous.

See? Goats. It's hard to make this shit up.

See? Goats. It’s hard to make this shit up.

It’s a family-owned place – Al Johnson himself only died three years ago; his widow still owns it; one of his sons sat us and the other apparently cooked our food. Jason had eggs Benedict and I had Swedish pancakes – thin, almost crepe-like, and, at Al Johnson’s, rectangular – with lingonberries and a side of Swedish meatballs, which were good, but honestly, the ones I made a few months ago were a little better. We got Zoe a stuffed goat and me a cookbook of Swedish cookies and stuff, and also some limpa bread, which I brought home and haven’t eaten yet.

Then we were determined to get to Sweetie Pie’s, the best place, we were told, for cherry pie, before it closed. It was in Fish Creek but down 42 a ways from where the main shops are.

It was really cute. It was, like, a normal kitchen, not even a double oven or anything, and a few varieties of pies, and they offered “crust cookies” when we came in. We got one big cherry pie to share with Jason’s parents when we got back, one little cherry pie for Jason’s co-worker, and two little pies – a chocolate pecan and an apple – for us. Then we walked around the shopping area where Sweetie Pie’s was located and had a lovely conversation with the owner of the alpaca store, who was also an alpaca farmer. One of the first in the United States! And she had a farm on Washington Island but that was being taken over by her nephew, who liked the property because he could put a deer stand out there. And me, being from a family like mine, was like, “What’s a deer stand?” So I got a lovely lesson in that, too.

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By then it was raining. I had wanted to go to the Fyr Ball festival in Ephraim, which was my favorite town so far because in addition to the cuteness, it looked like the kind of town people actually lived in, with a Village Hall/Library, and a Wilson’s Soda Shop, and all these cool flags for the Fyr Ball.

Fyr Bal

But obviously it wasn’t going to be fun in a thunderstorm, so we decided to drive all the way to Sturgeon Bay – which kind of lacks cutesiness and is really where people actually live – to go to the one regular movie theater in all of Door County to see Man of Steel. (There’s a drive-in, and we wanted to go, but they were showing Iron Man 3 and Fast and Furious 6. You guys, I totally missed Fast and Furious 5! I can’t see 6!)

None of those muscles are created by the suit, by the way.

None of those muscles are created by the suit, by the way.

I did not much care for Man of Steel. Jason liked it. I did not.

I do not want to spoil it for anyone, or make much of a discussion of it on this particular blog post, so if you want to discuss with me the merits and de-merits of Man of Steel, please feel free to e-mail, call, or message me. Or take it to the comments and we can have it out there. But I just did not care for it. And I will say this one thing – I am too damn old for shaky-cam 3D. I was even too damn old on Saturday, and that was before I turned 32!

So once we got out the rain had cleared. We stopped at a wine-tasting place and tasted – and then bought – some wine, and then tasted – and bought – a whole bunch of cheese. At least two of the wines we bought and at least four of the ones we tasted involved cherries somehow. None of the cheeses we tasted did but I think the cheese place had at least one cheese that involved cherries.

We also stopped in Fish Creek to have dinner at the fancy place I’d picked out our first night but didn’t feel appropriately dressed for. I had made us reservations and we were supposed to come back later that night, after I had changed and put on my nice shoes, but Jason was hungry now, so we decided to have dinner early.

It was at Whistling Swan, which is a great name, and their whole look – I was just totally enamored. Very neutral, pale colors, dark woods, metal and stone bird statues and black and tan pebbles on the table, stacks of birch wood and gunmetal light fixtures. I know I tend to favor a lot of color in my decor scheme but sometimes I want to wipe it all out and do this style instead.

And the meal was VERY good. I had the wine the waitress recommended, which was sort of herby and delicious. They gave us a cucumber basil gazpacho as an amuse bouche which was creamy and had a real kick. Then we shared a pork belly taco with jalepeno-tomato jam and picked red onion, and a sort of pate thing (‘nduja) with mascarpone on toast and chervil. I don’t always like chervil but this was really good. I also ordered a tomato salad with mustard greens, pesto, and house-made ricotta, and Jason was all, “Eh, I don’t think we need a salad,” and ate half of it. Because it was delicious. And because of course he did. Then he got a perfectly cooked flat-iron steak with veal reduction, haricots verts, carrots, mushroom (trumpet? What’s the kind that’s got a thicker stem than cap?) and mashed potatoes, and I got duck breast with peas, new potatoes, carrots, and a beet puree. Everything was excellent. Then some good Chai (but not as good as yours, Shobhit!) and a chocolate fudge cake which was way more fudge than cake (which is an EXCELLENT thing) with honey ice cream, crushed pistachios, and salted caramel. And THEN they brought us two tiny, tiny spoons with that caramel, covered over in amaranth seeds, which are sort of corn-like.

Anyway. It was delicious, the room was beautiful, and we were very happy.

By the time we got to Ephraim the Fyr Ball was more or less over, although there was a really good band playing covers of ’80s songs in the Village Hall. We didn’t stay for the bonfire (bonfyr?) or the little girls in Swedish outfits dancing, which I was sort of disappointed about, but we had been out all day and Jason was tired and wanted to go home. So we did. I soaked in the tub for a while, wrote, and eventually we broke out the chocolate pecan pie which was DELICIOUS.

Day Four

Time to go home. We got up and got packed. Jason observed that I hadn’t had any of the Scotch we brought up with us, so he insisted that I have a sip before we put it in the trunk. So mark your calendars, folks – my descent into depravity started on my 32nd birthday, when I had Scotch before 9 am.

We had intended to go to the landmark White Gull Inn in Fish Creek for their famous Door County Cherry French Toast, but when we got there we discovered that we would not be seated for an hour, so Jason said forget it. We went down the street to The Cookery, which is where I’d wanted to have dinner that first night. And when we walked in, I said hi to the guy who’d been manning the desk at Whistling Swan the night before, and was now having breakfast with his parents. I think it gave Jason a pause that I could greet familiarly a handsome and bearded young man, but you know. I’m a man magnet. He’s just gotta deal.

The restaurant was very good. It was owned by a couple who bought the place on their honeymoon (I mean, it wasn’t a total whim; they had met in a kitchen and were looking to open a restaurant together), and they still operate it, along with their daughters. Very dedicated to homemade, locally sourced, etc. Jason had more eggs Benedict on their homemade biscuits and I had fried eggs over the biscuits served with their whitefish chowder. AND of course Jason had a lemonade spiked with their house-made cherry syrup, and I had their house-made ginger ale spiked with their house-made cherry syrup. The refills were supposed to be sans cherry syrup, but they gave us more anyway, which was nice.

And then we got some more cherry fudge – they had dark chocolate this time! – before getting in the car and heading home. Well, to my in-laws’, where Zoe was.

My favorite thing on the ride home? We passed a couple on a motorcycle. Jason wanted to chastise them for their lack of helmets. Then we pulled up closer and saw that the woman on the back of the bike was reading! Just chillin’ with her paperback on the back of a motorcycle! Girl after my own heart.

So we got to my in-laws in the mid-afternoon. I had been feeling really good about Zoe being there because we Facetimed with her every night, and whenever we did she was really happy to see us, told us she loved us a million times, gave us lots of kisses through the phone, and then would be like, “Okay, I gotta go watch Powerpuff Girls, bye!” And I thought, wow, what a terrific job I’m doing as a parent. My kid, she’s secure enough that she can be someplace without us and still be happy to see us but not desperate or sad or anything. I get an A+ for the Emotional Health class at Child-Rearing School.

But when my daughter, the love of my life, the light of my soul, my own little mouse who I love the most in the whole world, saw me walk through the door – she burst into tears. “I don’t want to leave!” she complained.

Thanks, kid.

We had dinner with my in-laws – more Yu’s, because it was my birthday and I always want more Yu’s – and then had the cherry pie. We decided the filling was better but the crust not quite as good as the Door County cherry pie we get from Wildfire when it’s in season.

And that was our trip! Thanks for listening! Tune in some time in the near future for this season of SYTYCD!

Good Parenting

Y’all, I forgot to post last week. I think trying to do a once a week blog is interfering with my goal of writing something I will one day actually get paid for. So I’m dropping this down to “sporadic” for right now.

But I wanted to tell you two stories that illustrate why my parents are awesome. Their best parenting moments, if you will.

First, my dad. When I was fifteen or sixteen, I got pinkeye for the first time. I know this sounds like absolutely no big deal to anyone since it’s just a piddling little infection that goes away in a couple of days. But I freaked the fuck out about it. I was not a vain teenager; I didn’t spend a lot of time or money or energy on my clothes or hair; I never even learned to do eyeshadow until I worked for Aveda in college and had to. I didn’t really think I was all that pretty and I didn’t try to make myself so.

Or at least that’s what I thought I thought. Until one eye was all red and swollen and goopy. And then I found out where my vanity lived.

My dad was witnessing my freaking out and couldn’t understand it. “But Dad!” I sobbed. “My eyes are my best feature!”

“Really?” my dad said. “I thought it was your wit.”

Perfect Dad moment right there. There was simply nothing better he could have said in that moment, no better way, even, to construct or deliver that sentence. It should be studied in textbooks with titles like “How to Talk to Your Teenage Daughter: A Guide in Building Self-Esteem.”

Now, my mom. The television show “Felicity” started airing when I was a senior in high school, IIRC, and the first episode featured the mom getting all sad that her titular baby girl was heading to college. I, feeling a touch sentimental myself, asked my mom if she would feel that way when I went away to school. She said no. I got a mite offended, but then she said something like, “My job in raising you was to teach you to go away from me. You going to college means I did my job and you’re going on to live your life, pursue your interests, and be an adult. I want you to grow up and go away, because that’s what I want for you. I’ll miss you, but I won’t be sad.”

She insisted on taking me to college sans my father, because she feared, probably correctly, that my father would spend the afternoon schmoozing with other parents and then get all sad and weepy when it was time to go, whereas my mother, who I swear is not British but still only believes in showing sentiment to dogs and horses, would get me unpacked, make sure I had everything I needed, and leave. Which she did. I remember starting to walk her back to her car, and she asked why I was following her, and I said I wanted to say goodbye, and she said, “Oh, please. Give your mother a hug and go.” So I gave my mother a hug and went back to my dorm, soon to be picked up by my aide group leader (read: camp counselor) and on to have lots of fun for four years.

The summer after my freshman year of college, I was back in New Jersey, and my mom, my sister and I went to see that movie with Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman as mother and daughter and then Natalie Portman goes to Brown? And I look over and my mom is crying! We left the movie theater and I said, “Mom! How come you cried when Natalie Portman went to college but not when I did?” And she said, “I did cry. I just did it in the car where you couldn’t see me. I didn’t want you to feel like you had to take care of my emotions on your first day of college. I wanted you to go have your own emotions.”

Good job, Mom.

So what were your parents’ greatest parenting moments?

 

Odd Day

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So, here’s what’s happening. I’ve written a post for another blog and hopefully it will be up soon and I will link to it when it goes up. And next week, no post because it’s Pesach and I’ll be celebrating with my family.

And that’s all I was going to say today. I mean, I could talk about Steubenville, but it’s too depressing and I have nothing to say that hasn’t been said a million times. But then I was watching Bill Maher and he had on Michelle Rhee, who I already hate because she talks smack about my cousin (and because I fundamentally disagree with her on education), and she said something I want to talk about so I’m going to.

Bill Maher asked her what any individual teacher can do in an environment where poverty and a lack of education and/or ability to be involved on the part of the parents seems to create the major problem. Rhee insisted teachers CAN make a difference, and cited her experience visiting an underperforming school at which most classes were ill-attended. But one teacher’s classroom was full to the brim that first period, with 35 kids in the room. She asked one of the, as she described, “tougher”-looking kids in the room what was up with that, and he said this teacher was really good because he always teaches them something new every day, and because he always answers all the questions they have. Later, she saw him and his friends walking out of the building despite the fact that they still should have been in class. They said that the other teachers were boring, so although they made a point of making it into first period, they were out for the day now. They had better stuff to do.

Rhee’s point is that this teacher is awesome enough to get these otherwise unmotivated kids out of bed and into school in the mornings just because they like being in his classroom. Which is great. I mean, it’s not great that these guys view school as an entertainment option instead of a responsibility/door to their future, but good for that teacher for having a dynamic, interesting classroom.

But I wanted Maher to ask the follow-up that has to be on anyone’s mind who cares about education and the direction “reform” has taken in this country – “Do the students in this teacher’s class get higher test scores?” Rhee is all about test scores to keep teachers accountable, right? So is the good pedagogy she witnessed correlated to good test scores or what? And if not (and I strongly, strongly suspect not – if for no other reason than, these kids walked out of the building when no longer sufficiently stimulated. Do you really think they show up on test day?), doesn’t Rhee need to re-evaluate what standards she uses to “hold teachers accountable”?

Like my cousin, I’m not against holding teachers accountable for doing well at their jobs. I do think that “doing well at their jobs” cannot mean “Every single teacher must be an amazing superhero with creative and engaging lesson plans every day who obviously does nothing 24-7 but teach and plan to teach and then all of those plans are awesome! And every student tests in the 99th percentile!” In the first place, that’s not how math works. If you honestly think that, if the teachers were just trying a little harder, we could get every student in this country somewhere into the 90th percentile on standardized tests that are GRADED ON A CURVE, you are too stupid to pass those same tests. In the second, amazing superheroes in ANY job are really rare. And they’re even rarer when the pay is what we can afford to pay public school teachers. (Which is not always terrible, depending on where you live, but if someone was that amazing, intelligent, creative, and energetic, and willing to dedicated all their time to a job, they could probably get paid significantly more elsewhere.)

But anyway. While it’s fine to hold teachers accountable, you have to have standards that make sense. And if you are calling out one kind of teacher as the good kind, the kind that can make a difference, you have to make sure your evaluative processes would reward that kind of teacher. And if you don’t, you’re either too lazy to do it or you’re committed to your own evaluative processes for some other reason that has nothing to do with genuinely wanting the best schools for our kids.

So, Michelle Rhee, did that teacher’s students do well on standardized tests?

Quitting

First, I must apologize. I am exhausted. I have had a very long weekend. Awesome, but long. Come to think of it, I’ve had a very awesome but long few months. So this is going to be even more half-baked than last week.

Do any of you know Crappy Pictures? This woman draws very basic cartoons about the joys and bizarre-nesses of parenting; she’s really funny and it’s cute. Last week, she posted this. I don’t think she’s gotten much flak for it, though, to be honest, I’m not about to go through all 1,000-plus comments to find out. Or even more than skimming the top five.

I feel this way sometimes but not often. I often feel like I’d like to take some vacation days from the job of parenting – and sometimes, I get to! Thanks, Jason! – but mostly I don’t feel like I want to quit parenting. I’m not saying that to assert my superiority over any other parents; I completely understand and sympathize with the desire to quit. Being a parent is often annoying and sometimes downright excruciating. I just don’t often feel like I really want more than a day off.

However.

I would really like to quit what I’ve come to think of as the “personal assistant” parts of parenting. The remembering that it’s my week to bring cut-up fruit to preschool. The knowing exactly where her hat, mittens, snow pants, boots, and extra leggings and socks are. The knowing what the dates are to sign up for camp, for school, for dance classes, and then the getting all the forms in by that date, including her birth certificate and medical forms for every damn thing on the planet. The making of play dates. Not the going to play dates or the accepting children into my home for the purpose of play dates, but the arranging of them. The constant chauffeuring, which will the the last thing I get to stop doing, because for some reason we make children wait until they’re 16 to drive around here, instead of just building better bike paths and better-planned cities and authorizing all children who are old enough to HAVE activities after school and to ride a bike to TAKE THEIR OWN DAMN SELVES to those activities.

Wow, I’m mad about that and she’s not even old enough for that yet.

Anyway. That’s the sum total of blog-able thoughts I can have this morning. Sorry. Hopefully I’ll do better next week.

A Jewish Calendar, Or, Why Judaism Rocks

So Judaism has the reputation for being, well, a little nerdy. A little boring. A little, maybe, less fun than other religions. This notion is even promoted by some of the most celebrated Members of the Tribe! (Although this piece makes up for that one a little.)

But the truth is, Jews have some of the best holidays in the world! Take a look:

Rosh Hashannah – Our New Year. Which comes right at the start of the school year, sensibly enough. And instead of watching on TV a lit-up ball drop over a crowd of millions of people who’ve been pissing themselves because they can’t get to a Port-a-Potty, we eat bread and sweets. Delicious eggy challah, apples and honey, and anything sweet at all to celebrate a sweet New Year. Plus, usually, brisket. And who doesn’t love brisket?

Yom Kippur – Admittedly a downer, although the concert the night before is usually quite beautiful. But then you have to fast for a day, while also looking into yourself to acknowledge where you could improve for the following year. A day of meditation and reflection. And at the end, you’ll have a bagel with lox. I can think of worse things than meditation and lox for a day.

Sukkot – An eight-day-long backyard barbecue, right at the end of the summer. Awesome!

Simchat Torah – Dance Party!

Chanukah – Despite the naysaying and the negative comparisons to Christmas. Chanukah is EIGHT WHOLE DAYS of presents, gambling, and fried food. I’ll put that against a fat man in a red suit who steals your cookies and gets soot all over your house any day. (I’m lying. I love Christmas. But I also love Chanukah. And by “Chanukah”, I mean “latkes”.)

Tu B’Shevat – Do you know you are supposed to eat fruit you’ve never had before on Tu B’Shevat? Isn’t that kind of neat?

Purim – Yeah, the holiday where we dress up, get drunk, and celebrate a Jewish woman being so sexy she saved our lives? I covered that here.

Passover – A personal favorite. Perhaps not young, hip, and cool, but it’s like the Jewish Thanksgiving, in that it’s the one you come home for, the one where you welcome any and all comers into your house because godforbid a Jew shouldn’t have a seder to go to, so something like 93% of all self-identified Jews, whatever their relationship with Judaism is, get to a seder. So we drink, we tell a story, and we eat while the children play hide-and-seek. And, oh, yeah, lamb is way more delicious than turkey. Way more.

Shavuot – In recent years this has become our “outdoors” holiday. Go pray outside, go for a hike, go camping. Because religion!

And, don’t forget, we have a weekly candlelit dinner, after which sex with your spouse is a DOUBLE mitzvah! And a monthly excuse for a girl’s night!

Don’t tell us we’re the uncool religion. We know how to have fun all year round!

Jewish Bacchanalia

gil elvgren harem girl

So, Purim is coming. In America, it’s pretty much a holiday for kids. Temples have their Purim spiels, kids dress up either as characters from the story (well, girls can wear whatever princess costumes they have lying around and call it Queen Esther) or whatever Halloween costumes still fit them. There’s a carnival in which kids can win plastic stuff (or sometimes goldfish) and everyone enjoys the rabbi acting silly for the day. In Israel, Purim = Halloween, with all that entails. Well, all except children ringing your doorbell all night.

And much like Halloween here, apparently, in Israel, Purim is getting sluttier. At least according to this piece was published by Tablet last week. If you’re not going to click, it’s an essay in which the author, Dana Kessler, complains about the sluttification of Purim, tries to buck the trend by dressing like a settler (an Orthodox person moving to the occupied territories), and is looked down upon because of it.

I gotta say, I know I’m supposed to be offended or angry or something about the sexification of Purim, but . . . hello? Esther was a concubine who used her sexiness to save the Jewish people. The absolute most logical and true-to-the-story thing to do is for women to dress their sexiest.

Kessler, the author of the piece, opines:

Even though they typically dress as Dora the Explorer or Angry Birds rather than biblical characters, Israeli elementary-schoolchildren may remember that Purim is supposed to commemorate the deliverance of the Jewish people from genocide in the Persian Empire. But most secular Israeli adults don’t seem to care.

So let’s unpack this a bit, shall we? A) So the schoolchildren don’t dress to reflect the gravitas of the holiday, either, then? Okay. Maybe let’s not be snide about the righteousness and virtue of THE CHILDREN, then.

B) The Purim story is fictional. I’m not saying this as an agnostic crank who always wants to point out that the Bible is “not true.” I’m not saying the story of Purim is “not true”; I’m saying it’s fictional. The rabbis who put it in the TaNaKh did so knowing it’s fictional, and they let us know it’s fictional by helpfully putting it in the Ketuvim section of the TaNaKh. Ketuvim = Writings. Where the short stories, poems, proverbs, and that sort of thing go. Not where the history goes. The history goes in the Nevi’im, or Prophets, section. We can argue about whether or not the stuff in the Prophets section is true, because it purports to be true, so it makes sense to try to verify. The Purim story doesn’t purport to be true. It’s true in the way that fiction can be true. We are a people, after all, who have needed to band together and find allies in politically tenuous times that could spell extinction for us. But there’s no real-life deliverance to commemorate here.

C) True or not, Esther is a concubine. Our “deliverance” from genocide comes in the form of a woman being sexy. The title of the article is “What Happened to Queen Esther?” but the answer is, “Nothing. She was always a concubine. Probably never dressed as a sexy bee – but hey, if they had sexy bee costumes at the time, she probably would have.”

I also objected to Kessler’s interpretation of her ostracism at the party she went to dressed as a settler. Apparently, for the first little bit, she and her husband were claiming to actually be settlers. They had nice, Orthodox names all picked out plus a fake blood relationship with the host that would explain their presence at the decidedly secular party. And everyone believed them and at first she and her husband thought that was kind of awesome that everyone at the party was looking at them suspiciously and then demanding to know who they were. But, Kessler notes:

And then it dawned on me. The reason they thought we were settlers wasn’t that our costumes were so unbelievably believable. It was that nowadays, it is so utterly and completely inconceivable that a woman would actually deny herself this yearly free slutification-pass and dress like an observant woman in modest dress instead of a French maid with a lace garter on her exposed thigh, that I must have been the real deal.

Now, my American sense of things is that dressing as a settler – and purporting to be a settler – would be politically divisive and a no-no at a party. But my friend assures me that Israelis are impervious to such things and that dressing as settlers is not, in and of itself, an issue.

But maybe Kessler and her husband were at a party where they didn’t know anyone very well, and instead of getting to know people, being friendly, or joining in the fun, they lied about their identities and took on personas that were decidedly not party-friendly (what with the modesty and stuff), while sneering at everyone else’s whorish get-ups, and that’s why no one wanted to hang with them. Just guessing.

Kessler even feels free to complain that, although her children’s preschool Purim party was innocent enough, their “obese-but-cuddly” (How is that a “but”? I thought “obese” = “cuddly”.) teacher told her that she would be attending an adult Purim party later, dressed as a dominatrix.

Oh, my God, you guys. TEACHERS HAVE LIVES OUTSIDE OF SCHOOL. For real! Even your very own child’s preschool teacher! Sometimes they do things in their free time that would be inappropriate to do in front of their kids! (Hello, I’m a religious school teacher who writes steamy romance novels in her free time. Nice to meet you.)

I mean, yes, I think compulsory sluttiness is bad. For sure. Having no other option on Purim BUT to dress like a prostitute isn’t great. And uninspired compulsory sluttiness with no cleverness or creativity is just boring. But I’m also not a big fan of compulsory modesty and slut-shaming, which Kessler feels very free to engage in. And why did she have to tell us that the teacher was obese at all? Was it to increase the shock value when we learn that even the FATTIE is sexing it up on Purim?

The thing is, Jews are always going around worrying about losing the young people to some other faith/lifestyle. We’ve been worrying about this forever; worry about this is what, in fact, created the Torah and changed the nature of religion forever. (Want further discussion of this point? E-mail me.)

Right now, we wring our hands about the young adults, the ones who’ve already finished the childhood Jewish education with their b’nai mitzvot or confirmations or even graduating high school, and haven’t started the Jewish education of their children yet. How do we keep them in? How do we keep Judaism relevant and meaningful for them? How do we make Jewish space a space the young folk want to be? How do we make Judaism cool instead of perpetually nerdy and old-fashioned?

I don’t know, how about we start with a yearly bacchanalia?

That’s what Purim is supposed to be! Every culture has had a day of the year where you’re allowed, even commanded, to go a little nuts. Mardi Gras/Carnivale. May Day. The Feast of Fools. Saturnalia. And Purim, on which you are commanded to get so drunk you can’t tell the difference between the name “Haman” and the name “Mordecai.” Go ahead, say those two names aloud and then figure out exactly how drunk you have to be to mix them up.

Kessler says that Purim is supposed to be a “fun family holiday” but it’s not! It can make for a great family holiday, because costumes and cookies are fun, but that’s not all it’s supposed to be! It’s supposed to be drunk and silly and sexy and you’re supposed to go a little nuts! And you know what? I think we should push the sexy more! I think we should host bar nights, rent out clubs, parade through the Village, have wild, crazy, sexy costume nights! Throw a friggin’ ball! Look, I can’t do this, myself. I have a four-year-old and a husband and I’m already, like, old. Not in years so much as lifestyle. But you young’uns, get on this! Next year, make Purim a night you’ll want to remember but can’t because you were so drunk but oh shit someone had their camera phone out and you’re never going to become president now, are you? That’s what Purim, honest to God, is supposed to be about.

So What Did I Think of Les Mis?

I know that, a month after its release, y’all are dying to know.

The thing was, I couldn’t really think about Les Mis while I was watching Les Mis. Because I was sobbing uncontrollably. I always had a somewhat weepy reacting to Fantine, even when I was a teenager, but the combined powers of now I have a daughter and omg Anne Hathaway was magnificent (and BOY did that filming-the-songs-live thing really work here) meant I really couldn’t stop crying. I know everyone got weepy at this movie, but y’all probably went home and said, “Yeah, I cried, sure. But you should have heard this lady three rows behind me, oh, my God.” I was that lady three rows behind you. Sorry.

And then when we left, we were going home and Zoe was sleeping at her grandparents, but I just couldn’t take it and FaceTimed with her from the car, because for serious, I couldn’t handle it. I would have insisted on picking her up, but her aunts were visiting from San Francisco and she doesn’t get to see them very often, so I didn’t. So, thank you, Apple, for allowing me to FaceTime on the fly like that, and Tara and Gabrielle, know I love you guys and want you to have a relationship with my daughter and that’s the only reason we didn’t drive back right then and take her back.

Anyway. What did I think?

Overall, I thought they did a good job translating the musical to the screen. I mean, it was pretty much exactly what I expected to see on screen. And Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Sasha Baron Cohen (who, the whole time, I was going, “That looks an awful lot like Sasha Baron Cohen. But it can’t be, right? Because he’s doing a really good job and he can sing? Can Sasha Baron Cohen do a really good job and sing?” But yes, as it turns out, he can.), Helena Bonham Carter, and Samantha Barks (who played Eponine, on stage and screen, and apparently won the part over Taylor Swift, according to IMDB, which . . . I should hope so? I mean, I’m sure that Taylor Swift REALLY IDENTIFIES with “On My Own”, because she’s a dumb teenage twit like we were all once dumb teenage twits, but come the fuck on.) were all un-fucking-believable. And Russell Crowe . . . look, I believe he really wanted to be good. I do. I don’t think he was phoning it in. He just . . . can’t sing. I mean, he can’t sing like you need Javert to be able to sing. And yeah, I was disappointed by it because Javert is my favorite character and I would have really loved to see someone who could knock it out of the park play him, someone who could really go toe-to-toe with Hugh Jackman. But I wasn’t really surprised that he couldn’t do it.

And Hugh Jackman? Oh, my God. I say this as someone who doesn’t find him particularly attractive, who is not just squeeing like a fangirl because he’s so cute or anything, but he was amazing. Just amazing. The thing about Valjean is, I always felt sympathetic towards him, of course, but I’ve never felt particularly compelled by him. I think that’s because he’s usually played by a Great Man of the Theatre type, so you get the impression that, even while he’s on the run, stealing silver from bishops and whatnot, he’s still Monsieur le Mayor, Great and Powerful Citizen, Kind and Compassionate and Morally Upright Leader, inside, even if circumstances in his life don’t allow him to live like that all the time. Also, I mean, it’s the theater, you can’t always see faces so well. Whereas with Hugh Jackman, you could really feel all of the transitions the character made, how he really was this sort of feral criminal until he felt forgiven and seen and blessed by the bishop, how much he loved but felt insecure in his role as Monsieur le Mayor, community pillar, and how he felt the loss of that role when he had to go on the run again, but couldn’t be who he was when he was 24601 anymore. Very powerful performance.

I did get annoyed at some of the changes from the show, which is not to say that adaptations must never change their source material, but just that I disagreed with these changes. The big thing for me was that Eponine in the show gets shot after having delivered, at Marius’s request, the letter to Cosette that Valjean intercepts; in the movie, they have Gavroche deliver that letter; Eponine gets shot on the barricade, fighting next to – and saving the life of? – Marius. This in combination with a bit I’m fairly sure wasn’t in the show where Marius plays chicken with the French soldiers and a keg of gunpowder was supposed to make Marius look more like a genuine hero and less like a clueless, useless dipshit. That annoyed me. I was perfectly comfortable in my general hatred of Marius and I didn’t need the movie to try to make me like him more. Also, it means something that Eponine takes a bullet running this stupid, useless little errand to help the romance of 1) the guy she herself is in love with, and 2) the most boring and irritating romantic couple in the whole history of literature. It means something in terms of her relationship with Marius and exactly how much of a dipshit he is, and it means something that she doesn’t get shot during a battle but just as a random person crawling over the barricade; it’s an illustration of how cheap the lives of the poor revolutionaries are to the French soldiers.

And in many ways, they kept women out of the activities they do in the show to support the revolution, most obviously, in giving the women’s singing parts to Gavroche in “Drink With Me.” This annoyed me as a feminist, because even though in the show the women hardly had equal roles in the revolution to the men, at least they had roles, and didn’t just get shoved to the sidelines so that men could pick up their chairs. They were doing the support stuff women do, like tending wounds, mending clothes, and serving drinks, but they were THERE. This Les Mis just got rid of them entirely. Except Eponine, of course, who dresses like a boy in order to participate. It also annoyed me because hearing (and sniffling at) “Drink With Me” was my first exposure to Les Mis and is still my favorite song.

I can’t talk more about Anne Hathaway’s performance. I know I waxed poetic about Hugh Jackman, but Anne Hathaway – she just killed me. I can’t talk about it. I’ll start sobbing again. And then I’ll need to smish Zoe and she’ll get annoyed with me and I just . . .

I can’t hear anyone say the word “bed time” without getting all teary. (“Cosette, it’s turned so cold./Cosette, it’s past your bed time.”) This movie – and Anne Hathaway in particular – has made me a mess.

Here’s the thing about Les Mis for me, as a show, a movie, whatever: I would totally hate it if it weren’t for the music. It’s depressing and melodramatic and self-righteous and the ending is just such a flipping cop-out tear-jerker blah . . . But the music. Oh, the music. I am in thrall to you. Damn it.

PS. My sister did a review, too.

Happy New Year

This year, I have made many resolutions. Some are nebulous – be a better mother! Some are concrete – Write at least 1/2 hour a day (subject to increase but not decrease as the months progress)! Some are nebulous but with concrete steps – Get healthier! But also, exercise at least 1/2 hour a day (subject to increase but not decrease as the months progress)! Get yourself down to only having meat/white flour 2 times a week!

But here’s one that’s concrete – Post a blog entry every Monday. Without fail.

Even if it’s crappy and short, like this one.

Happy 2013!

Day in the Life of a Lax Mother

This post is inspired by reading this earlier today.

I’m not a very good mother. My daughter won’t eat anything, so I let her live on a diet of junk and chicken nuggets. (And bacon.) I have this calendar and, like, chore chart in our library. I never do it with her. I like the concept of doing a lot of arts and crafts with her. I don’t actually do them, though. I’m over-indulgent sometimes, and sometimes way too short of patience. I let her watch True Blood.

And I think that’s fine. I mean, sometimes I think that’s fine. And I think it’s important to share with each other our struggles, to remind ourselves that this Martha-Stewart-by-way-of-Mary-Poppins ideal of motherhood is just not happening IRL. For anyone.

So here’s what Zoe’s and my day looked like:

7:40: Wake up. (I know, that’s late for a mom. But last night, I was trying to chillax before bed and Zoe was in her bed watching a movie on her iPad – Bad Mommy! – and then instead of falling asleep to it, she came to bother me at 10:30. So I sent her to my bed – Bad Mommy! – and then finally moved her sleeping body to her own bed at, like, 11:15 – Okay Mommy?. I know moms complain about how early their kids wake up and are envious that mine sleeps so late, but that’s because she goes to bed so late. I bet they get to have conversations with their husbands on weekdays while their children are asleep. I do not. Bad Wife! Which is the same as being a Bad Mommy because don’t I know that a strong marriage is so healthy for the children?!) Brush teeth. Get dressed.

7:50: Peek in on Zoe. Notice she is blinking. Go in for some snuggling. Good Mommy!

8:00: After some negotiation – Bad Mommy? Shouldn’t I not stoop to negotiating with my child but instead be strong and in charge? Don’t children thrive on consistent and rigid schedules? On the other hand, am I not respecting her autonomy and teaching her about compromise? – determine that Zoe will pick out her clothes while I go get Beauty and the Beast – Bad Mommy! No TV! Also, no princesses! – then she can watch in my bed while getting dressed until it’s time to leave for school. Pretty sure that’s Bad Mommy, too.

8:02: Come back up to find Zoe is getting dressed in her own room. “Is it cold today?” “Yes. You need long sleeves and pants. It’s winter.”

8:03: In the bathroom to get out her vitamins and prep her toothbrush. She comes in to show me a skimpy t-shirt and a sundress. “You can wear the t-shirt with a sweater over it.” “No, Mom! I want to wear long sleeves under it!” “Uh . . . okay?” I don’t have any problem with that, although I do have a problem with her tone. I mention this mildly. Bad Mommy! I should take a firmer stance against disrespect! She goes back to her room.

8:05: “Okay, Zoe, I put your toothbrush and vitamins on Daddy’s nightstand. You can press play on the movie when you’re ready. Take your vitamins and brush your teeth and come down when you’re ready.” I go downstairs to eat breakfast and watch The Daily Show. Way Bad Mommy.

8:10: She comes down in the aforementioned skimpy t-shirt, with a tie-dyed long-sleeved shirt under it, and her cupcake pajama pants, and two different socks. She is quite pleased with herself. Bad Mommy! Pajamas to school? “Did you brush your teeth and take your vitamins?” No. But she does want to show me exactly which spot on the floor she wants her wooden menorah. And make a root beer float. Which I okay. Bad Mommy!

8:12: The menorah properly placed, Zoe goes upstairs with her float to take her vitamins and brush her teeth. I remind her that she has to come down when I call her to go to preschool. I do not check to make sure she does brush her teeth and take her vitamins. Bad Mommy!

8:36: I call her to come down. She does, slowly. I start snapping. “Come on, come on! Shoes! We’re going to be late!” Bad Mommy! It’s my own fault we’re going to be late; I got caught up in the Cory Booker interview on TDS. I should be more mindful of the time and start moving her before lateness is imminent.

9:05: We only five minutes late! Go us! Bad Mommy – five minutes late should be the problem, not the good day. Teacher questions pajama pants and points out Zoe needs chapstick. Bad Mommy! Also it did require taking the highway, for which there is a toll, which Jason doesn’t want us to do. Bad Wife!

9:30: I return Fantasia to the library and take out A Charlie Brown Christmas. Good mommy? Sure. Good Jew? Eh.

12:00: Pick-up. I discuss a playdate with the mom of the boy who’s going to break break her, break break her heart. Bad Mommy? But she really wants this playdate. I think it’s a wash.

12:10: In the car, I ask her how she feels about a trip to Target. Bad Mommy! Why am I asking? And what is her answer? Not so good. She wants to go to her favorite bakery, Sweet Whimsy, instead. I tell her we are going there, but at Target, she needs to help me pick out pretty paper for a present for Aunt Kate. Now she’s into it. I tell her we also need a card for my friend and her mommy. My friend lost her stepfather this week. I tell Zoe that, and remind her about me losing my stepfather and how sad I was. “But you were happy because you had me!” she reminds me. Bad Mommy! I discuss death with her! And I discuss my emotions openly! And she feels responsible for them, which is probably unhealthy! But I like the idea of normalizing the role of death in our lives, and also normalizing her role in a community. So, good mommy? “Yes, but my friend doesn’t have a Zoe. So we need to get a card to help her feel better. Will you help me?” Yes. She is enthused about helping me. Good Mommy!

12:17: She hops out of the car and starts dashing towards an on-coming car. Bad Mommy! Why is my child so undisciplined? I grab her arm. She’s very angry at me for doing so. Bad Mommy! I hurt her! And she’s being “disrespectful” again! I carry her into the store, explaining how terrible I would feel if she got hurt and I could have stopped it. Bad Mommy! Guilt trip!

12:19: I need to use the restroom. She doesn’t. I leave her in the cart outside the stalls with my purse, assuming no one will steal her, or it. Bad Mommy!

12:22: We pick out nail polish together. She wants red and sparkly. Of course. We get it. Bad Mommy?

12:23: We spot a dip-dyed chambray shirt with white hearts. She wants me to buy it for myself. I tell her I will in no circumstance be wearing that shirt. Bad Mommy? Would a good mommy buy the shirt if her daughter wants her to wear it instead of snarking on it? Regardless of purchase, would a good mommy teach her daughter to snark others’ fashion choices?

12:24: We see an absolutely gorgeous holiday dress for little girls. For $100. In Target. WTF?

12:25: Zoe is very helpful in picking out a sympathy card. And holiday cards for our family. And wrapping paper. We do not find any good papers for my project for Aunt Kate. But we do find great headbands for Zoe. And stickers. Bad Mommy! I’m being too indulgent.

12:32: We are getting to the point of the Target trip where I remind her that I’m already getting her two headbands, a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, stickers, and a flower paper kit. So when I say no to the next five thing she wants, she just has to put up with it. Bad Mommy! I said yes to all those other things, how can she know when the “no”s will start? I should have given her a limit at the beginning of the shopping trip! (Although I am pleased that one of the things she wants is something she’s getting for Chanukah tonight.)

1:05: Zoe is careful in the parking lot of Sweet Whimsy to demonstrate that she is trustworthy in parking lots. Good Mommy! Unless I’m not supposed to trust her in parking lots, no matter how trustworthy she is. Then, Bad Mommy!

2:05: We are home. She wants her Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups now, instead of after dinner, like she promised. I tell her she needs healthy food first. She wants a cheese stick. I’m pretty sure Bad Mommy!

2:10: She has lost interest in food. I tell her I need to go up and work and she should play. She follows me up and tries to sit on my lap and get me to read to her and stuff. I don’t. I respond to e-mails and start this blog post instead. Bad Mommy. Totes.

The day is not over. I’m probably going to do another 50 terrible things and another 20neutral things and maybe another 5 good things before she goes to bed.

My point is just this – our kids will probably be fine. As long as our Bad Mommy! moments aren’t, like, “I held my kid’s hand on the hot stove,” or “I left my four-year-old alone for two weeks while I went to Vegas,” they’ll probably be fine.