Dedicated to you: 6 songs for your long weekend

Remember Casey Kasem and his song dedications that went out over the airwaves every weekend?  Oh, man, I loved all the possibilities that involved. Would my name pop up in the local dedications? Should I phone one in? On top of that, I love the idea that a certain song, carefully selected, could be exactly suited to someone's sentiments and current mood. (I feel the same way about books, too, remember?)

Photo  via

Photo via

In that spirit, here are a few songs that you might like to add to your playlist for this upcoming President's Day weekend. 

For all you cool, alternative, New-Wave-music-loving 80s kids, this reminds me of that vibe:

For road trips, harmonizing, and longing to learn to play the guitar:

For during a soulful solo walk (or for gazing out the window of a train/plane/car)

For if your weekend doesn't go as planned and you need to wallow:

For dancing in the kitchen with your darlin':

For while you make dinner, do the dishes, make the bed:

Do you have songs you love for certain situations? And did you ever call in a song dedication to your local radio?

Be Jauntful

We've been lucky to travel a bit as a family and to live in some pretty interesting places over the years. Every once in a while a friend will email and say "you know how you used to love to drive down to NYC now and then? Well, we're going there on vacation and I was wondering if you had any suggestions for what to see, where to stay, what to eat...?"  I love it.  I love a good journey and I really love sharing great places along the way. But sometimes it's hard to remember or explain the recommendations in a narrative email. It takes a little time to look up all the links and addresses and directions. Over the years I've wished there were a way to put together an itinerary complete with map and links and notes. 

Well, now there is! I'm really excited about Jauntful. (You might remember I briefly mentioned Jauntful's concept a while back but they've recently launched and I've started exploring their site. I'm seriously excited to use this service. By the way, they don't know me at all nor have they paid or asked for my endorsement. I'm just a giddy oversharer is all.) You type in favorite spots--cafes, activities, hotels, must-sees--and they map it and fill in the nitty-gritty details. And they create a shareable, printable map from the suggestions you provide! Genius.

My friend Alyson is coming to visit next week (huzzah!) so I've been exploring the Jauntful guides to cities nearby. I think we'll probably try this one for Sydney--I love that there are hotel/cafe tips along the way, too, with suggested sequence and insider tips.

I tried Jauntful out by documenting the Melbourne trip I posted about last year and I'm hooked!  Oh, the possibilities.

p.s. If you do join Jauntful, let me know! I'd love to get your take on your hometown or your favorite destinations. Armchair travel is almost as fun as the real thing (um, with less jet lag, too).  

Alternative cinema for big kids: Wadjda

Meet Wadjda. 

She's a spunky, smart, enterprising 10-year-old Saudi Arabian girl living in Riyadh who has her eye on a green bicycle at the shop. 


Much to her dismay, she can't convince her mother or father to purchase it; bicycles are considered unseemly, a bit scandalous, and even damaging for a girl ("you won't be able to have children if you ride a bike!" she's told). So she decides to take fate into her own hands and enter the Koran recitation contest at school that offers a cash prize with enough to get the bike.

Wadjda delighted me. If you haven't seen it yet, you are in for a treat. The Guardian called it "a rebel yell with a spoonful of sugar" and that's about right. It has a sweetness to it while gently pushing the envelope for opportunities for girls in Saudi Arabia. And I was fascinated by the window into daily life in Riyadh. Wadjda deftly navigated the themes of cultural beliefs & practices, family relationships, faith, and social change, reflecting some of the nuance and complexity of these issues rather than going for a heavy-handed approach.

It's also a movie of firsts: the first feature film made in Saudi Arabia and the first film ever made by a Saudi female filmmaker. In fact, since it is illegal there for men and women to work in public together, director Haifaa al Mansour had to communicate with the crew through phones and radio from inside a van.  (For more about Haifaa al Mansour's experience directing the movie and her approach to gradual change within Saudi Arabia, listen to this interview with the Guardian and this one with NPR.)

Wadjda (rated PG)  is available on iTunes and Netflix. 

  • I loved it. Highly recommended and one of my favorite recent film finds.
  • Recommended for: ages 10 and up, especially those who are curious about other cultures and about children around the world--and those who don't mind reading captions to keep up with the story.
  • You should know: You may have to explain a bit about Muslim culture and, specifically, why Wadjda's father is considering marrying another woman. There's also some very mild innuendo that will go right over most kids' heads. (As always, if you have any reservations or questions, see it first before showing your kids.)

Nest Lab: Hail and farewell

Today we’re unveiling (imagine me flicking my wrist and gliding my arm in front of me, The Price is Right style) a new feature for Nest & Launch*. When we met and brainstormed some new ideas a couple of weeks ago, Sarah and I wanted to have a spot now and then for trying out ideas/research/advice. And so Nest Labs and Launch Labs were hatched. Each month one of us will choose an idea to try for two weeks and then follow up with a lab report—ideas related to either nesting (family, home, parenting) or launching (exploring, discovery, outside-the-comfort-zone, next stage sorts of things).  Sometimes we’ll take our cue from old wives’ tales, sometimes we’ll try out what research suggests, and sometimes we’ll just follow a crazy thought where it leads.

We’re not promising that these experiments will necessarily make it into our regular routine and repertoire, mind you. We’re thinking of these more like a dressing room for ideas—some will come home with us but some will end up cast off and crumpled on the floor after just not quite working in the three-way mirror in harsh fluorescent lighting. It’s an experiment and this will be our lab. Oh, and you’re invited to come along, too, if you feel inclined. The more the merrier!

For this first Nest Lab, I’m going with something simple—making better hellos and goodbyes. Sometimes our house feels like a train station; someone is always coming in or dashing out the door. As the unofficial train station manager I used to be quite good about making sure everyone got a good send-off or a focused hello but more often than not I toss an absent-minded “hi” over my shoulder as I hunch over something—a book, a computer screen, a stovetop. (Speaking of hunching, that is a lab for another month. Must. Improve. Posture.) Or I holler “bye!” from upstairs when I hear the jingle of keys. Hellos and goodbyes were easier and more energetic when the kids were younger; I think time, frequency, and routine have sapped them of their energy lately.

Hello, Dad! My dad and me, 1971

Hello, Dad! My dad and me, 1971

As I was writing this I remembered that Gretchen Rubin tried this very thing in her book Happier at Home (she enlisted her whole family in warmer hellos and goodbyes). She says, “somewhat to my surprise, we all began to follow the resolution (most of the time)…as a consequence, each day, several times, we had moments of real connection among all members of our family.” I also think this is a great skill for life: knowing how to give a good hello—eye contact, smile, warmth—and goodbye. Maybe this will spill over into other kinds of interactions. I don’t know. Will this really make a difference to my people? Will anyone even notice? We’ll see.

So for these two weeks, here’s the plan: I’m going to stop what I’m doing, go and look the arriver/goer in the eyes, smile big and give a genuine hail or farewell. It is a very small thing but many family and marriage counsellors believe that paying attention to small rituals like this make a huge difference in relationships and pave the way for a warmer family climate overall. (For example, here and here.) And, surprisingly, it’s often one of the first assignments for a couple in therapy.

Join me? I’ll be trying this for the next two weeks and talking about it in my “lab report” on April 21. 

* We're also happy to be returning to our schedule of posting every weekday starting this week. On the slim chance you're interested in the full rundown (hi, Mom!), here's the rough schedule of posts we're trying out, M-F:

  • Monday: Nest/Launch Lab post, essay, or parenting post
  • Tuesday: Focus on  food - books - movies - research - design - gatherings
  • Wednesday: Essay or parenting post
  • Thursday:   Focus on food - books - movies - research - design - gatherings
  • Friday: A Few Good Gems (fun fact: we were considering eliminating these but many of you mentioned them as favorites in the giveaway post so they're staying)

A few good gems

Egon Schiele, Crescent of Houses, 1915

Egon Schiele, Crescent of Houses, 1915

Welcome, weekend! I'm ready for you. This week has been a bit of a doozy BUT, as of today, the kids are done with the high pressures of exam week here (it's almost the end of the school year for Aussie students) and G just arrived back from his 2-week transcontinental business trip so I'm looking forward to some good, relaxed weekend vibes. But first, here are a few things to launch you into the weekend (and a couple for next week for you Thanksgiving celebrants):

- Try this experiment to become a morning person.

- Are children like dogs and teens like cats

- Learning to let your children reveal themselves (and, relatedly, remember our show me who you are post?)

- When my teen needs a ride

- Lots of truth in this post about mastery and choices and piano lessons: "Look, the truth is that your kid can't be a black belt in karate and a ski racer and a soccer player and a pianist and an "A" student and a dancer and in the school can go broad or you can go deep; that's your choice. But you need to know that learning to play the piano takes place in the deep end of the ocean."

- Make an easy Thanksgiving garland

Instead of candles at the kids' table, you could make (or they could make) and use these adorable paper pyramid lanterns

photo via  Willowday

photo via Willowday

- And I'll leave you with this gem from the inimitable Erma Bombeck: "The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another's desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together." 

Enjoy your own band of characters this weekend! See you back here on Monday. xx

Like Calvin and Alice

Calvin Trillin's ode to his wife, About Alice, remains one of my favorite snapshots of a marriage.  Alice was a frequent feature in most of Trillin's writing and a muse and lodestar in his life. This slim, unabashed love letter of a book makes clear that he was smitten in a very real, long-lasting way. It's not a weepy, maudlin elegy but a funny and poignant tribute to the woman he clearly adored and still does.


He writes, "I once wrote that tales about writers' families tend to have a relation to real life that can be expressed in terms of standard network-television fare, on a spectrum that goes form sitcoms to Lifetime movies, and that mine were sitcoms. Now that I think of it, maybe they were more like the Saturday-morning cartoons. Alice played the role of the mom--the voice of reason, the sensible person who kept everything on an even keel despite the antics of her marginally goofy husband. Years ago, at a conference of English teachers where we were both speakers, the professor who did the introductions said something like 'Alice and Bud are like Burns and Allen, except she's George and he's Gracie.' Yes, of course the role she played in my stories was based on the role she played in our family--our daughters and I sometimes called her T.M. which stood for The Mother--but she didn't play it in the broad strokes of a sitcom mom...she was anything but stern. She had something close to a child's sense of wonderment. She was the only adult I ever knew who might respond to encountering a deer on a forest path by saying 'Wowsers!'

"There was one condolence letter that made me laugh. Naturally, a lot of them made me cry. Some of those, oddly enough, were from people who had never met Alice. They had become familiar with her as a character in books and magazine pieces I had written...about traveling or eating or family life. Virtually all those letters begin in the same way, with a phrase like 'Even though I never really knew Alice..." I was certain of what Alice's response would have been. 'They're right about that,' she would have said. 'They never knew me.' 

"...Still, in the weeks after she died I was touched by their letters. They might not have known her but they knew how I felt about her...I got a lot of letters like the one from a young woman in New York who wrote that she sometimes looked at her boyfriend and thought, 'But will he love me like Calvin loves Alice?" 

- This made me wonder: Who are your lodestar couples--the ones you maybe aspire to be like, as Calvin and Alice were for the young letter writer? Are they real or fictional? Do you know them personally or from afar?

- Listen to Calvin Trillin's interview on About Alice 

- Lots of ways to keep track of us:
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p.s.  On a personal note, I'm celebrating with a happy dance in the kitchen and an afternoon of novel reading just for fun because last night I sent in 70 pages of my dissertation to my advisor! (Technically, it's part of the dissertation proposal but will also be the substantial literature review of my dissertation itself.) Just had to shout that from the internet rooftops. I'm beginning to think maybe this really will happen, folks! Except on the days when I'm ready to throw in the towel, that is. It's a toss-up these days (just ask Sarah, who lets me vent about it on an almost daily basis).

Mothers, daughters, and the passing of batons

Sisters in the kitchen, William Gedney, 1980 | via Duke University Collection,

Sisters in the kitchen, William Gedney, 1980 | via Duke University Collection,

This excerpt from Alice McDermott's new novel Someone speaks for itself (but that won't stop me from giving it a little postscript here of my own down below):

. . . 

"It was time," my mother said, that I learned a few things about cooking.

I stood in the kitchen doorway, all reluctance. Why? I wanted to ask.

[Later in the book, the main character Marie will explain to her friends out on the stoop: "Well, I don't want to learn," I said. "Once you learn to do it, you'll be expected to do it," and was amazed at the way my own words clarified for me what had been, until then, only a vague impulse to refuse.]

[...]The sound of her voice was more familiar to me then than my own; I knew the end of my mother's patience when I heard it.

"You tell me," I said softly. "You tell me what to do."

Behind me, I heard my mother cross her arms over her rickracked apron.

"There's a recipe in front of you," she said. "And unless I'm very much mistaken you know how to read. Read it."

I lowered my head the way I'd seen horses do, and dogs, when they didn't want to be led. "You tell me," I said again.

I heard her stamp her foot. "I won't." Anger always stirred my mother's brogue, like meat brought up from the bottom of a stew. "I wrote it out for you so you could read it. Now read it."

I didn't turn around. "Just tell me,"  I said.

"A recipe is meant to be read," my mother said.

I dipped my head again. "I'd rather you just tell me."

In the silence that followed, I could hear, faintly, the noise from the street, where I wanted to be: cars passing and children calling. There was also the distant thump of doors closing in the apartments below, various footsteps on the stair. There was the whine of someone's clothesline pulley. The chuckling warble of some pigeons at the window.

"Measure out your flour," my mother said slowly, relenting. I shifted my feet a bit to accommodate my triumph: better than risking a sly smile.

I put my hand on the measuring cup. "How much?" I said.

And now, even without turning around, I knew it was my mother who was smiling. "You'll have to read the recipe to find out," she said. "Won't you?"

It was a wonder, my mother said later, in every retelling of it, that we didn't kill each other on that bright morning. Slowly, through a series of niggling concessions on both our parts--some telling, some reading, some turning away in anger, and some giving in--the ingredients were placed into the bowl and the bread was shaped and lifted into the black frying pan. When my mother brushed past me to mark the cross on its surface, her hands were trembling with anger.

[...] But my mother merely stood beside me with her hands on her hips, studying her stubborn daughter once more, even as that daughter kept her exaggerated, myopic stare on the clock. "I suppose this is how it's going to be," she said softly, more to herself than to me. "You're growing up."  And then, for a moment, she put a gentle hand to my head.

She said, "God help us both," and left the kitchen.

-from Someone by Alice McDermott
You should read it.


Those mother-daughter moments of clash and reluctance and wills and so much love and anger colliding at once? God help us both, indeed. I feel like I am there, both daughter and mother, in this moment where McDermott deftly hints at themes of independence, tradition, budging and not budging, and the passing of batons across generations--or the passing attempt, anyway.

As a side note, I lament the things I chose not to learn from my own mom when I was a teen, sure as I was that I would--what?--live a vastly different life, maybe? As a daughter, I remember it not feeling like an outright rejection of my mom's plentiful talents and sacrifices but rather a stubborn struggle to find and claim my own distinct strengths, apart from her. Still, I regret that her accomplished music (she plays the harp! how could I not learn the harp from my own in-house mom harpist?!), kitchen finesse, and many creative skills were just a few of the batons I chose not to pick up from her outstretched hand. Not then.

As a mother myself now I can hardly be surprised as I watch my daughters choose or discard the batons, often independent of my outstretched offerings. My lesson from before is just this: not to take it personally. 

. . . 

- NY Times review of Someone here 
 - Interview with McDermott on the Diane Rehm show