29 August 2013

Thanks MTV

I'm not sure I've uttered those words since I was in junior high watching Vanilla Ice perform on MTV. We didn't have cable at my house, so I'm pretty sure I was watching the performance in a hotel room while on vacation with my family. Back then, MTV was so cool.

I have to admit that I haven't thought much about MTV until recently. In fact, before I started teaching Introduction to Media & Culture this summer, I figured MTV was defunct - a victim of its own demise as well as the demise of the recording industry.

Turns out that MTV is still quite alive. And I want to thank MTV for hosting the Video Music Awards. I want to thank MTV for allowing Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke to perform their mash up of "We Can't Stop"/"Blurred Lines." Thank you, MTV, for opening up a debate/discussion about race and gender in this country in a way that even the media coverage of the George Zimmerman case didn't, and perhaps couldn't, address (sadly). MTV didn't mean for this to happen, of course. But in the wake of the coverage, there has been appropriate (and inappropriate) backlash to the performance - all addressing how we see race and gender in this country - and how the media, both consciously and unconsciously, promote very offensive and troubling pictures of both.

I've heard Thicke's "Blurred Lines" a total of once this summer. I didn't really stop to listen to the lyrics, but it turns out that they're disgusting and hugely inappropriate. I love that people (men included) are talking about what this means for domestic violence and sexual assault.

When I first watched the performance I was shocked, confused and mostly sick of seeing Miley's tongue. But the more I read about it, the more shocked and confused me. Ninjakate wrote an outstanding piece about the objectification of black women in the performance - something that didn't even occur to me when I watched the clip.

On Monday, the news and social media were abuzz - mostly condemning Miley for her actions. It became front page, top of the hour news. Some people argued that we should just ignore it. But others, like those above, started deconstructing the powerful images that appeared. The Onion published a great piece criticizing the media about their coverage of the performance. While I agree that Miley wasn't necessarily news, I do think the reaction to her is news - of the good sort - news that makes us question our reality - as presented by the media and by society in general.

So, thanks MTV, for NOT questioning this performance and airing it so that we all had the opportunity to question it on a deeper, more productive level. MTV has helped me think more about how to talk to my kids about sexuality, gender and race - and what is real versus what we see in the media. Certainly, this is not going to change the way we think about race and gender in this country, but open and honest dialogue is always a first step to create meaningful change.

Le Jardin d'Ete

Although I haven't posted anything about the garden this year, it's there. It's definitely there - albeit fairly forgotten. Nate's generally the sower and tender and I'm more of the harvester. With the deck and travel this summer, the garden has been an afterthought. So, the bounty hasn't been as prolific as in years past, but we've still be enjoying fresh veggies.

Tomatoes continue to mystify us. We haven't had a surplus of tomatoes, well, ever. This year, only two of the four tomato plants survived. We've grown them in various raised beds and tried to grow a variety of different kinds of plants. We do have a delicious cherry tomato plant and enough tomatoes on another plant for salads.

The greens are completely the opposite of the tomatoes. Green leaf lettuce, red leaf lettuce, arugula, kale. Although most of the lettuce is finished by now (too hot), the kale keeps us flush with green stuff. I've been obsessed with a certain kale salad all summer, but the kale has also been great steamed on top of pulled pork sandwiches.

Kale and Farro Salad

4 cups kale, ripped into bite-sized pieces
1 cup farro
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

1 tbsp. honey
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 tsp. chili peppers
1 tbsp. lemon juice

Cook farro, per instructions on package. Chill the farro and combine with kale, raisins and Parmesan cheese. Mix the dressing ingredients (honey, olive oil, onion, chili peppers, lemon juice) and let sit for at least an hour. Combine all of the ingredients and serve. Delicious!

The most impressive veggie out of the garden so far: Beets. Beautiful red juicy beats. We haven't had much of an opportunity to roast them, but we have been juicing them like crazy. Combined with apples, carrots, lemon juice and ginger, the juice is downright delightful.

While summer is quickly winding down, we're still enjoying the bounty of the garden. And we probably only have about five to six weeks until the first frost, so we better get on it!

26 August 2013

First Grade

We started first grade with considerably less fanfare than kindergarten. It's not surprising, I guess. Benny's a pro at this - and I'm not an emotional train wreck. All good things. This year is so much different - we know the school and Benny knows most of his classmates - either through daycare, kindergarten or the play he was part of last year.

There were still nerves, but they weren't the kinds of jitters I remember having. In the weeks leading up to school, Benny would say his stomach hurt. We ruled out hunger, sickness and even gas pains. I think it was probably some anxiety about starting school, but he couldn't necessarily verbalize those thoughts. But when it came time to line up outside, he was more than ready to bid me adieu. I insisted on going inside (like the majority of the parents there) so I could meet his teacher and see his classroom. After a brief stay and an awkward hug with his sister, he was ready to be rid of us.

Benny's best friend from last year is in a different classroom this year. He's excited that they'll see each other on the playground and at afterschool care. We met up with some other first graders to ride our bikes this morning. I can't believe how big the boys look here.

I am changing things up a bit this year to (hopefully) ease the getting ready rush:

  • Have Benny pack his lunch the night before. I'm hoping that by giving him some responsibility with this task will mean that he will actually eat lunch.
  • Pick out everyone's clothes the night before. Even my own. I'm surprised by how long this takes me every single morning.
  • Wake up earlier. Like 30 minutes earlier. Getting the kids ready and myself ready in 45 minutes is not enough time.
  • Wake the kids up earlier. Ditto to the previous bullet. 
  • Put up a chore chart with the things Benny needs to complete before leaving the house - including getting dressed, putting shoes on, eating breakfast, making the bed and brushing teeth. 
Here's to a new school year and new responsibilities!

21 August 2013

Growing Up

Life doesn't seem quite fair when I'm hell bent on NOT growing up and my kids are growing up without any sort of second thought. They just do it. Everyday.

Benny starts first grade in less than a week. Somehow first grade doesn't seem as weird as kindergarten - probably because we're pros at school at this point. Been there. Done that. What really gets me is that he's reading everything. Signs. Books. Labels. Nate and I can no longer spell things out because he now knows what we're talking about. We've reverted to pig Latin. So far, he hasn't figured out that secret language, which doesn't really matter because I often can't understand it either.

We've been calling Lila a big girl ever since she ditched the diapers nearly six months ago. I'm completely willing to forget that connection to babyhood - the diapers, the wiping of butts. She moves up to the next classroom, intermediates, in two weeks. The room where every kid is potty trained and can now go on field trips. FIELD TRIPS! I've been putting off the big girl bed for months now. Nate was ready to remove the railings from the crib long ago, but I convinced him otherwise. "Why would we allow her to get in and OUT of bed on her own," I would say. And he agreed - eventually. Until she decided that she could climb out herself. On Sunday, I was suddenly forced to come to terms with the fact that Lila is no longer a baby. Not even close. She isn't even a toddler. She is a pre-schooler. And, damn if I don't want her to stop growing right now.

But we keep moving on. Benny moved up from a 16-inch bike to a 20-inch bike this summer. And he is ROCKING it. He is incessantly inquisitive and growing smarter everyday. He still can't tie his shoes and now I'm holding onto that little relic of toddlerhood with the hopes that he'll still have to ask for my help in high school - for something.

Lila pretty much just copies whatever her brother is doing, so I fear that she will develop skills faster - just to keep up. She's already a pro at the balance bike and at setting the table. She goes to the bathroom all by herself. All she has to master now - to become a full-fledged self-sufficient kid - is to be able to put her shirt on and take it off. That's it. And then what? Reading and writing for her? Bike riding? No more needing Mom?

Shuddering over here. Can't we just slow this whole process down a bit? Enjoy these little bits of dependence and independence. Savor them. Nope. All I can hope for is to be able to recall the awesome memories of my kids and consider myself lucky to be here to witness their amazing growth.

20 August 2013


The deck is (almost) done. It's totally functional and very pretty. There are a few minor details to finish up, but I'm calling it a victory. We've come a long way since we bought the house in 2008.

Originally, the house sported a patio covered with a large metal awning, popular in the 70s. Houses all over the neighborhood are decked out with these lovely metal vines. When Nate and I first saw the house, we saw the potential for a deck. We put off building a deck because it didn't seem like a "need."

Personally, I think the house looked better without the awning and I could have gone a summer just enjoying the empty space. Alas, those stairs were a death trap for kids and they made it difficult to enter and exit the house - even for adults.

We naively thought the deck would be finished in one, maybe two, weekends. Alas, it has been a full summer project. But TOTALLY worth it:

As you can see, we need to finish up the pergola and the stairs need some skirting. This week, I will be purchasing a new/used patio set via Craigslist and we'll string some lights. Just in time for the end of summer days!

14 August 2013

Book Review: The 42nd Parallel

The ladies in the book club decided to try something different for our meeting in September. We typically read popular contemporary books. This month we went for a classic in The 42nd Parallel by John Dos Passos.

I liked the book. I really did. But I think this is the kind of book that I need to read without distractions - so maybe summertime isn't the most ideal time to read it. Or while teaching a four-week summer course. I think I missed out on some very important details.

Regardless, Dos Passos follows five people to New York City (all arriving there for different reasons) just before the U.S. enters World War I. All of the characters start out working class. Some earn fortunes, others do not.

What I found most interesting about the book were the female characters, particularly because this book was published in 1930. The women were both single and professional, which is such an odd position to be in during that time.

Sadly, I don't remember much about the book (distractions!), so I'll have to read the Cliff's Notes before book club in a few weeks.

12 August 2013

Brule Day 2013

Brule Day has always represented the nearing end of summer for me. I grew up on a farm outside of in Brule, Nebraska, population 411. Brule Day is always on the first Saturday in August. It's one day to celebrate community - with a breakfast, parade, lunch, kids' games and a beer garden and dance. When I was younger, we'd participate in the parade and the kids' games, go home and work on the farm, and return to Brule for the street dance (held in the fire station a block from my grandparents' house). I didn't return to Brule Day for years - until I had kids of my own.

Now, Brule Day boasts a 5K in the morning in addition to the other activities. Many Bruligans (a nickname given to people from Brule by my sister-in-law's sister) participate along with many former Bruligans. Now, most of the kids who gather candy at the parade are out-of-towners - children of children who grew up in Brule.

Benny and I have traveled home for every Brule since he was one. Nate accompanies us if it works out. And now Lila does too. I've run in almost every 5K with my oldest and dearest friend since returning (only missing one year when I was pregnant with Lila). The kids enjoy the parade, lunch and penny toss before we head back to my parents' house for naps. Some day, I hope they can participate in the kids' games.

It's fun to give the kids a taste of small-town life. And it's great to reconnect with friends from high school and their families once a year.

06 August 2013

Soundtrack of Summer

When I hear Dido, I think about the summer I spent in Montana. I fell in love with the mountains that summer and had a serious crush on a guy from Kansas. While the guy from Kansas is long gone, my love for the mountains remains. Dido's music always reminds me of that great summer - it was sort of my coming of age summer. 

Other music reminds me of other seasons of life - typically of summer. I'm not sure if it's because the longer days spent outdoor begs for a background soundtrack or if it's because those technicolor days are just easier to hold on to and savor. The summer Nate and I started dating, I introduced him to Wilco's album "Summerteeth." The summer before Benny was born, Nate and I fell in love with Devotchka. When Lila was a newborn, we had to dance with her to get her to go to sleep. She loved the beat of Toots and Maytals. Two years ago, the summer belonged to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes - and specifically "Home." Although we were also keen on "Rolling in the Deep" by Adele and anything by Florence + the Machine. 

This summer, our evenings have been filled with dance parties to the White Stripes and Daft Punk. Benny and Lila both request "Seven Nation Army" and rock out on their drums and guitars.

Benny loves the entire Daft Punk album. You should see his robot dance moves. Pretty sick (his description). And while "Get Lucky" isn't the most appropriate kids' song, we let him listen to it anyway.

While Benny typically gets really into the music and can hit a beat almost immediately, Lila is more into the performance aspect. As illustrated here:

What about you? Do you have a soundtrack of summer? What is it? And what does it remind you of?

01 August 2013

The End of Summer

Here we are. August 1 already. I can't believe how quickly this summer has disappeared. And I know we still have roughly a month left of summer, but it's always hard to get to this point and not mourn summer a little. We still have lots of plans to round out the summer, including a trip to see my parents and family this weekend for the annual Brule Day celebration. I'll be spending the next two to three weeks working on my class stuff and meeting deadlines. Maybe that's why summer feels like it's over - it is for me.

But, I'll be riding riding riding. My goal is to ride everyday this month. I think I can finally do it! It will be like a birthday present to myself (along with a haircut and a pair of Frye boots I recently purchased - so beautiful).

Are you with me? Maybe we can make this a 30 Days of Biking, Round Two.