Things to Read - 7 Interesting Articles From Around the Web - On Drunk Perfect Moms, Malala's Transformation, Redshirting Kindergartners, Validation, Homework, and Unicorns

* I needed a drink after reading the Atlantic's Alcohol as an Escape from Perfectionism. Sorry, bad humor. A really fascinating (and scary) read. "Alcohol offers a time out from doing it all—‘Take me out of my perfectionism.’ Superwoman is a clichĂ© now, but it is extremely dangerous. I've seen such a perversion of feminism, where everything becomes work: raising children, reading all the books, not listening to their instincts. The main question is: What self are they trying to turn off? These women have climbed so high that when they fall, they crash—and alcohol’s a perfect way to crash.

* In the New York Times, Adam B. Ellick tells an ethically complex story of how Malala Yousafzai, the 16 year old Pakistani schoolgirl who the Taliban shot in the face (and runner up for the Nobel Peace Prize), became famous.

"While my original documentary tells the story of Malala’s struggle for education in the face of the Taliban, this back story also raises some sobering and difficult questions. Malala was a brave young girl, advocating for a better future for all girls in her country, but was it fair for her to fight so publicly in such a dangerous environment? Or was she thrust into the limelight by adults captivated by the power of a child staring down the Taliban?

. . . .

Malala’s father may be a progressive educator, but her family is very traditional. As in most families in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, where they lived, her father works and her mother is a homemaker. In the larger region around Swat, only one girl in five attends school. Malala’s own mother is illiterate, and Ziauddin told me she did not interact with men outside the family. I was never able to speak with her, and rarely saw her at all, because, as her husband explained, “she was not habituated to be on camera.”

. . . .

After my documentaries aired, the family’s life changed dramatically. Donations poured in. Awards arrived. Dignitaries visited. The American Embassy sent Zia on a free trip to the United States. In the bombastic Pakistani press, Malala became the de facto voice of Swat.

* I loved (and empathized with) this piece on how back to school night made the author feel like a bad mom. "Our hunter-gatherer ancestors who carried children on their backs had to protect them from a world full of dangers, such as ravenous lions and monkeys vying for meat. Those who encouraged their children to compete for scarce resources including food and shelter helped their kids survive and reproduce, passing their genes down to succeeding generations. […] We’re the modern recipients, hardwired to want our children to win whatever battles they may face. Whenever our kids meet a competitive danger, our minds and bodies go on high alert. We receive signals of anxiety and alarm, inciting us to push our children forward to compete. Of course, the “threat,” that my sons may fall behind in their musical or athletic skill, is far from dire, my body does not know that."

* The New Yorker published an interesting argument against "redshirting" (the practice of holding a child back for an extra year before the start of kindergarten). "By the time they get to eighth grade, any disparity has largely evened out—and, by college, younger students repeatedly outperform older ones in any given year. Why would that be the case? It all comes back to that relative difference: if you are always bigger and smarter, you may be more likely to get bored, and to think that everything—learning included—should come easily. You don’t have to strive and overcome obstacles in the form of older, more developed kids. If, on the other hand, you’re on the younger end of the spectrum, you are constantly forced to reach for your limits. And unlike in sports, where physical size often plays an undeniable, difficult-to-circumvent role in your eventual success, in school a physical disadvantage can turn into an academic advantage: children may learn to compete where they can succeed, where their persistence and attention can accomplish what their physical size may not."

* My Daughter's Homework is Killing Me - I love any article where the author gets high and attempts to do his daughter's homework, especially while trying to figure out why kids need homework at all (a question I find myself asking quite frequently these days) - "If Esmee masters the material covered in her classes, she will emerge as a well-rounded, socially aware citizen, a serious reader with good reasoning capabilities and a decent knowledge of the universe she lives in. What more can I ask of her school? But are these many hours of homework the only way to achieve this metamorphosis of child into virtuous citizen? According to my daughter’s teachers, principals, and administrators, the answer is an emphatic yes. Certainly, they have told me, all the homework does no harm. As I watch my daughter struggle through school days on too little sleep and feel almost guilty if she wants to watch an hour of television instead of advancing a few yards in the trench warfare of her weekly homework routine, I have my doubts. When would she ever have time to, say, read a book for pleasure? Or write a story or paint a picture or play the guitar?"

* But I Have A Law Degree wrote a wonderful post on women and validation, I loved every word so much I hate to excerpt it, but here goes - "I also believe that a person is not defined by their job or their status. The prestige I felt from my legal career reflected a fake kind of confidence. It's embarrassing to admit now, but I felt an immense sense of pride from my job title alone. But why? Someone's job status doesn't in and of itself make someone interesting. Saying I'm a lawyer at a cocktail party doesn't mean anything. What means something is who I am as a person, and what I have to say. Perhaps what I have to say happens to be about my career, and that's great. But surprisingly, I've learned that I still have plenty to say, notwithstanding my employment status."

* Finally, this Huff Post piece on Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy was already all over facebook, but it really is a great read (plus, I like unicorns).

"Cal Newport points out that "follow your passion" is a catchphrase that has only gotten going in the last 20 years, according to Google's Ngram viewer, a tool that shows how prominently a given phrase appears in English print over any period of time. The same Ngram viewer shows that the phrase "a secure career" has gone out of style, just as the phrase "a fulfilling career" has gotten hot."


Places to Go - Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament (Hanover, MD)

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Within 45 minutes of arrival at Medieval Times, I began crafting an incredibly negative review in my head. In fact, I was so miserable I wanted to leave. But then, against all odds, I ended up sort of loving the place. First of all, the beginning - Medieval Times is located in a mall (a very crowed mall), which resides next to a casino, as well as several chain restaurants. And at 4 pm on a Saturday the parking situation is positively medieval. I've never witnessed anything like it (and hope to never witness anything like it ever again). Who goes to malls anyway? Don't people know about the internet. Anyways, after I dropped Dan and the kids off, it took 40 minutes to find a parking space (and really the fact that I found one at all is sort of a miracle), granted the spot was located on the top floor of a parking garage and was so small that I thought for sure the car next to me would key up the minivan, but at least I could park.

While I searched among about a million cars for one little parking spot, Dan and the kids stood in a 40 minute line in order to pick up our "reserved" tickets (we bought a Living Social Deal, but called two weeks ahead for assured seating). We then reunited to stand in another long line to enter the venue (we arrived at 4 and were seated around 5). The posted start time was 4:30, but due to "full capacity crowds", they delayed the show for thirty extra minutes.

Finally, they decked us out in cheesy paper crowns and managed to seat our family. You know I'm at my limit when Dan needs to keep reassuring me "calm down. we're here now. let's make the best of this." And then . . .

I wanted to hate our waiter. Simply because at this point I wanted to hate everything. But he was so nice and he had to carry such big trays. Then the soup came (tomato bisque) and I wanted to hate it too, but it was actually quite good (there are no utensils so you sip it from the bowl), especially when paired with the garlic bread. And, well, when the arena filled with smoke and glorious white horses came out from behind closed doors, all while my kids waved their flags and screamed "red and yellow" at the top of their lungs - I had to admit I was actually beginning to enjoy myself.

Knights competed. Theatrical lighting and fake fog created an air of mystery and suspense. Flags waved. More food came, more than any one person could really eat (potatoes, chicken, ribs). And it all tasted quite good (I know, crazy right?). Flowers were thrown into the air. Our king confronted a warload (or at least something like that happened, I was too busy eating to pay attention to the details). My kids seemed entranced.

And, yes, I was happy.

Eventually jousting occurred. And the actors did a great job of keeping everything suspenseful and Disney-esqe believable (mood music and dramatic lighting helped). Our knight was the first eliminated (probably because we were at the end of the (incredibly long) line, I've heard those seated first receive a winning knight). But even that didn't spoil the fun. Yes, we had fun. Cheesy family fun. A "wench" brought me wine (for an extra fee). And F loved the dessert pastry so much she asked me to email the establishment for the recipe.

So despite an awful beginning to the night, I recommend Medieval Times. Just don't drive there.

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Things to Do - Grateful List (September 2013)

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* Watching The Beautiful Now
* Reading What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank (the short story)
* Reading Lives of Mothers & Daughters: Growing Up with Alice Munro (a used copy only cost $4 before she won the Nobel, at least I've made one good investment this year).
* Watching Drinking Buddies
* Watching Toy Story outside at Penrose Square
* Attending the Corcoran's War Photography exhibit
* Reading Family Happiness & the Cossacks (Tolstoy)
* Watching The League, Season 1 with Dan at night (so so funny)
* Listening to Grouplove's Betty's a Bombshell & Gregory Isakov's Big Black Car
* Attending Detroit at Wooly Mammoth Theater

* Hummus and rice fritters w/tahini salad dressing
* Passata with roasted tomatoes (via Whole Larder Love)
* Gwyneth's quinoa/rice bowls (esp. with eggplant)
* Rasika with Shannon
* Crispin Cider (I can't stop drinking these lately, the taste is much "lighter" than most ciders)

* Kyocera ceramic knives (esp. with butternut squash)
* Bumble and Bumble's Surf shampoo and conditioner

* Ultrazone laser tag as a family (best start to a Sunday morning)

* Paras and Dan, hung over, watching My Little Pony with the kids and telling us "this show is hysterical"
* Our first family meeting ("make your own path")
* Our new morning routine (with chores for the kids)
* "There's one rule for our basement - have fun. And I made it up." - P
* P and T playing together all morning on a lazy Saturday
* Laurie, Jon, Jenny, & Paras all in town for the night (and over for dinner), so wonderful to have so many far away friends in one place
* Two nights in a row of neighborhood parties (thank you Melissa and Trina!)
* "Lis called me a nerd. Nerds are really smart and quirky so I like that." - F
* "I'm a yogurtaholic and whoever doesn't know, now they do." - T
* P always patting my shoulder and saying "ya done good mom, ya done good."
* The return of Natalia
* Coach Emma (UK Petite Soccer), the best preschool coach ever
* P mastering her back hip circle
* T on drawing - "it's not scribble scrabble, it's a racecar going really fast."
* Happy hour with Alison at Lyon Hall
* T - "What's sarcasm?"/ P - "Sarcasm is just adults trying to be funny."
* The puppy and Coco playing for hours in the backyard
* This year's block party and Dan's 1st place win in the BBQ contest for his smoked brisket
* Lots of neighborhood Friday night happy hours (I love this place).


F - a great first day of school, awesome days, a nice house to live in and food to eat, that we have everything we need actually a little more than we need, laser tag, the puppy, a great week

P - going to birthday parties, Silver Diner, school starting, my birthday coming soon [well, actually not for 2 months], going to Menchies, Halloween, books, Project Runway, my back hip circle, Natalia, our new puppy, playdates, that you let us stay up late to watch all of Toy Story, soccer, drawing

T - my family, daddy coming home after dinner and walking with us, seeing all of my friends, going to school, Coach Emma

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Things to Do - Watch More TV With Your Kids (Seriously)

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We don't watch much TV as a family. Don't get me wrong - we all watch TV - T on the ipad glued to Fireman Sam, the girls in the basement with Jessie (most annoying theme song ever) and Dan and me upstairs, after the children go to bed, immersed in Breaking Bad's final season (so sad it's over now) or laughing hysterically at It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

We just don't often watch anything TOGETHER. Perhaps this is due to the fall of the family sitcom (outside Modern Family, which still seems a little "adult" for young kids, what is there?). We also cancelled cable a few months ago, making it impossible to channel surf (we still have Amazon streaming, Netflix streaming, and Hulu). For a while we tried Project Runway, but Hulu will only allow viewers to watch from a computer, which isn't ideal for family viewing.

So lately we're making an effort to watch more TV together. But we can't find much to watch. A friend recommended Master Chef Junior, which seems like a great idea. Another friend suggested America's Funniest Home Videos, but I'm not sure I'm up for that much cheese. Any other recommendations?? Please help. What do you watch as a family?

Movie recommendations would also be helpful - we've watched Singing in the Rain, ET, Brave, and Star Wars over and over again, but could really use something new.

On a completely different note, the popcorn buckets above were gifted from Personal Creations, which have become one of our family's favorite presents ever. No more fighting over popcorn, now everyone has their own labeled bucket (with extra in the large tub, for emergencies of course :).

Seriously, I never knew one gift could improve sibling dynamics to such a large degree. Now I'm considering labeled bowls for everything in life, unfortunately I don't think I'm organized enough to make it work. Personal Creations also sell personalized story books (which I think would make perfect Xmas gifts) and lots of other great gifts for entertaining. Click here to check out the whole site.


Places to Go (Vacation) - Middleton Place (Charleston, SC)


Oh Monday. This weekend, actually all of last week, was overfull. Good things, but exhausting nonetheless.

In no particular order, we:
* Frolicked in Warhol's Silver Clouds.
* Playgrouped (thank you April!)
* Held our first garage sale (where I learned that underpricing things DOES NOT make them move faster).
* Attended an afternoon birthday party for one of P's friends and stayed until until 10:30 at night (I love our neighborhood).
* Cheered as P's team FINALLY won a soccer game (I know I know, the first grader teams don't keep score, but oh well, we kept score).
* Feasted on an amazing homemade brunch at the house of good friends (so so yummy).
* Slept in on Sunday morning (while the kids were at a sleepover).
* Spent LOTS of time "reading" this book on the couch.
* Discussed the fact that we eventually need to rid our house of the huge mulch pile occupying our driveway - any takers??
* Planned birthday party after birthday party ('tis the season).


The pics above are all from my trip a few weeks ago to Charleston, where we spent a drizzly morning touring Middleton Place - a crazy beautiful old plantation full of swamps and sculpture gardens. Alligators and farm animals. Amazing contrasts everywhere we looked. A wonderful place to visit (though the whole "fire ants" thing sort of freaks me out).



Things to Do - Cherish This Day & Random Links


This year T has shown an intense interest in Halloween decorations, whereas the girls seem to have cooled off on the holiday. Both P and F still talk about costumes (somewhat) and candy (more than somewhat), but overall the thrill has decreased.

Earlier in the week, I brought T to Party City and let him pick out even more decorations for the front yard, though I stopped short of the fog machine and the talking zombie. We mainly purchased cardboard items that you stake down - tombstones, ghosts - and fake spiderwebs for the bushes. When the girls were little I did not want to own very many seasonal decorations, we didn't yet have a good storage system, so every year we'd lose them again and again. Plus I hated bringing both girls to specialty stores, they'd fight over everything, nobody leaving happy.

This year, as soon as the girls came home from school, T ran up to them, so thrilled to show off all the effort he put into our yard. F shrugged and replied, "it's not scary at all, how come T always gets what he wants?" Usually I let such comments slide off me, as I find them ridiculous and unfair. But, upon reflection, there is a kernel of truth to it - the spoiled third child. Such a cliche.

I hope someday I can explain to the girls that this year the decorations were what I wanted as well - one more October with a preschooler who is mesmerized by Halloween's fake scariness, watching T smile as a cardboard sign transforms into something magical after we stake it to the ground.

A new post is up on Cherish This Day - click here to see this week's photos (some amazing shots this week!)


* I can't stop listening to this song and this song. So so good.

* Of course, I am over the moon about Alice Munro's Nobel Prize. She amazes me (she's even in my bio statement, see if over there on the right?).
(1) I loved this piece where different authors talk about their favorite stories.
(2) The Paris Review's interview of Munro is a must read for any fan.
(3) I also recently finished (even before she won the Nobel) Lives of Mothers & Daughters: Growing Up with Alice Munro, which is written by Munro's daughter, and is a great story - about women, motherhood, art, family history, and fame.
(4) Further, her "personal history" piece in the New Yorker is a pretty awesome read - "I did not go home for my mother’s last illness or for her funeral. I had two small children and nobody in Vancouver to leave them with. We could barely have afforded the trip, and my husband had a contempt for formal behavior, but why blame it on him? I felt the same. We say of some things that they can’t be forgiven, or that we will never forgive ourselves. But we do—we do it all the time. . . . When my mother was dying, she got out of the hospital somehow, at night, and wandered around town until someone who didn’t know her at all spotted her and took her in. If this were fiction, as I said, it would be too much, but it is true."

* I love Ron Mueck.

* The 10 Sexiest Books of All Time.

* Can a feedlot be beautiful? These aerial images are absolutely incredible (both haunting and gorgeous).

* Warped childhood, Restoration Hardware style. Funny.

* Have you ever heard of the Alice books? Apparently they've been banned more than any other books in the past decade. Is it frightening that I now really want my kids to read them? Especially after I read this interview with their author?

* I can't stop perusing this new-to-me blog - great photos and words.

And to round out the week, I'm including some soccer pics of T and his friends. Coach Emma (UK Petite Elite) is the best soccer coast ever. She's amazing (though I can't say I'm as big of a fan of the Gunston Bubble, something about the air pressure in there always makes me feel woozy.


Practice outside before class. (I'm not sure "practice" is the right word, but I'm going with it).


Life inside the bubble . . .


The gang (and quite a wonderful gang at that).



Things to Read - Favorite Kids' Books X

Cold rainy days = lots of reading on the couch. Here are some of our recent favorites (and click here to read our former reviews):


Warning: Do Not Open This Book

me - Okay, so I pretty much love this book, it's super clever and short.

P (age 6) - Wait, now I get it - the monkeys are actually in the book (as she keeps opening and shutting the cover over and over).

T (age 4) - Read it again? Please!! It's so funny. I love the monkeys. And I love the trap. I like bananas too.

Chloe and the Lion

F (age 8) - I thought it was really funny because it was different than a regular story.

P (age 6) - I thought it was funny how the illustrator and author were part of the story and got in a fight with each other.

T (age 4) - I liked it because the man that draws the pictures was part of the story.

The Dark

T (age 4) - When it's midnight, I get really scared, so I snuggle with pink sheet. (me - T, are you going to review the book?)

P (age 6) - I'm not scared of the dark, I'm scared of the bad stuff that can happen when I'm in the dark. (me - Is anyone going to review the book?)

P - I thought the book was okay.

T - I thought it was funny that the dark talked. I wish the dark would talk in real life. Could you please read it again now?

Tap The Magic Tree

me - This is an interactive book, very similar to Press Here. (though I still like Press Here better)

T (age 4) - This is so fun [as he claps, points, etc.].

P (age 6) - Now please read it again mom, without doing what the tree tells us to do [so I read it again].

P - It's fake! It's fake! I knew it. The pages stay the same whether or not we follow the tree's directions.

T - Can we still read it again? It's still fun, I don't care if it's fake.

Digger, Dozer, Dumper

me - This book is a collection of poems about construction vehicles, the poems are actually pretty good.

T (age 4) - I want to drive an ambulance.

P (age 6) - I'd be a cherry picker so I could save cats. Even though I'm allergic to cats.

T - Trucks can't really think, can they? (me - Is anyone going to review the book?)

P - It was okay for a truck book.

T - I like it! I like trucks!


P (age 6) - I want to read it one more time.

T (age 4) - It's so cool! I liked when they got the TV and played in the box instead.

P - Do you know what's good about that? They learned that playing and having fun is more important than watching TV (me - seriously? I can't make this stuff up).

T - I liked how they hang out with Chloe instead of watching TV.

Night Shift

me - Lately this is T's favorite book, probably because it documents several different careers that he's never heard of before. Also, he likes to yell out all the jobs before I turn the pages.

T (age 4) - I like the newspaper printers because I love getting the newspaper in the morning. I also like the boats a lot. I learned a lot.


Flat Stanley Goes Camping

me - We have a hard time finding good early readers, but P seems to really like the Flat Stanley series.

P (age 6) - I liked it. It's about a flat boy. They get lost in the forest and he becomes a parachute and a boat. Eventually he saves the day.

CHAPTER BOOKS (note - these are purely F's reviews as I've never read these books (though I want to one day)).

Fake Mustache

F (age 8) - This was a really cool book. A boy named Casper buys a fake mustache that makes him become evil. Because it's so real looking his friend has to stop him from becoming president and taking over the world. Only two people aren't brainwashed by the mustache because they're the only ones who know it's fake. I really like that it shows kids saving the world and not adults. It was very exciting.

Phantom Tollbooth

F (age 8) - I liked this book, though there were some tragic parts like a lot of people had to run a lot, there were dangerous times. Even the end is a little sad but then Milo realizes, because of his adventures, that he has all the time in the world in his room. I liked the humbug and the watchdog and the Kings of numbers and letters. Milo makes the kings find peace. There were funny parts and it deals with how words work so it's a book that is better to read to yourself than to read out loud.


Things to Do - 12 in 12 (October 2013)

This month the 12th fell on a Saturday. It seemed like an active, busy day, but for this post I could barely scrape together 12 pictures. Artistically some days you're on and some days you're not. Blame it on the rain. Anyways, we had fun, even if the fun didn't photograph very well . . .

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8 am - Bikram Yoga first thing in the morning is a wonderful way to start the weekend.

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10 am - T, Coco, and Odessa spent the morning on the dog bed.

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11 am - P making a birthday card for her friend before her ice skating party (Dan took her and said she did fantastic considering she's never skated before)

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noon - While T paints "scary" Halloween pictures (this is a witch, FYI), F and I play Swish (Think Fun gave us all new games to review on the blog, a giveaway will be posted in a few weeks, so stay tuned).

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1 pm - Finally, after three days the rain takes a break for awhile. So we take advantage of the "nice" weather and walk to the library. The baseball field has morphed into a pond.

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1:15 pm - Everyone always stereotypes boys as messy and dirt-loving and girls as mud adverse. But in our family it hasn't really worked out that way. F can't resist a puddle, whereas T hates wet feet.

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1:45 pm - We tied the dogs to a bench while we were at the library. Coco couldn't wait for her pack to "reunite."

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2:30 pm - The firehouse hosts an open house for fire prevention month. The girls chose to skip it, so I take T and watch him "drive" firetrucks for awhile.

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4:45 pm - Dan stood in line 45 minutes for our "reserved" seats at Medieval Times. Whereas I spent 45 minutes looking for a parking spot. I was not amused. Arundel Mills is truly a horrible place (why would anyone build a casino, mall, and 1000 person jousting venue all in one spot?).

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6:00 pm - Our knight lost, but the kids still had the time of their lives (I'll post a review next week).

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7:00 pm - Heading home (and back to the 21st century). I had no idea malls were this crowded on Saturday night. (Not sure how P managed to avoid all photos for this month, she's a tricky one).

Now click on over to Not-So-SAHM to see how her Saturday went.


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