BookTalk: Coming Clean

Kimberly Rae Miller has written a thoughtful and touching account of her life as the child of loving, supportive parents who also struggled with hoarding. From the outside, her life in a working-class community on Long Island probably seemed typical to most of the people around her–because even as a young girl, Miller put tremendous effort into creating that impression to protect her family.

In fact, she lived in homes that were packed to the brim with papers, broken appliances, and more–homes in which the plumbing didn’t work, and repairs went unmade, and fresh food was an impossibility.

Read the rest at Cannonball Read 10

BookTalk: Pity Poor Mrs. Popper

We’ve started reading chapter books to Baguette at bedtime. Our first was The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White. Neither Mr. Sandwich nor I had read that as children, and we’re continuing that with our next selection: Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater.

On its surface, the story is cute enough. A seasonally unemployed house painter unexpectedly takes delivery of a penguin, and hijinks ensue. There is a second penguin, and then little penguins, and more hijinks. Baguette is enjoying the story, and that’s really the point.

But as an adult, I can’t help but be struck by something. Mr. Popper does not think things through at all. He only has an income for half of the year, which means that his family has to eat beans all winter. Nevertheless, he goes into debt to buy a “chilling machine” for the penguins in the basement.

Mrs. Popper, meanwhile, doesn’t even get a personality. All she does is clean the house and talk about whether the house is clean. And they have two children, but darned if I can figure out why. Janie and Bill are barely present and don’t add to the plot or the humor.

So on a level that the writers don’t seem to acknowledge, this is the story of a woman who puts a lot of effort into making a home for her family, but has the misfortune to be married to a man who spent the entire winter’s bean money on extreme air conditioning.

Fine. It’s fine. But it’s the kind of book that’s probably charming to a child, and a source of some eye-rolling for an adult.

cover of Mr. Popper's Penguins

For more reviews by more readers, and to support the American Cancer Society, visit Cannonball Read 10.

Book Talk: What Did I Just Read?

Capitol Hill Question Mark (Washington, DC)

So apparently I’m now selecting books without having any idea what they’re about.

First, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. This is a really good book. I’d heard great things about it. Apparently I’d never actually read a synopsis, because for reasons I can’t explain, I thought it was about a teenage boy.

Spoiler alert: It’s lovely and moving. Also, it is not about a teenage boy.

Second, Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg. I was expecting funny anecdotes about Ansari’s life, and there are some. But this is actually the funniest serious book about sociological trends that I’ve ever encountered. This book is based on a study and references others. It has substance.

I recommend both of these books. But I am surprised that, twice in a row, I read (well, in the case of Modern Romance, listened to) books of which I had no prior knowledge or understanding.

What books have taken you by surprise?

Photo by takomabibelot. Public domain.

Nothing’s Ever Easy

That’s my father’s saying. Mine is “It’s always something.”

Baguette’s IEP includes bus transportation between home and school. Because she is now able to attend the after-school program (this is a whole story of its own), she only rides the bus to school in the mornings; Mr. Sandwich picks her up in the afternoons.

At the beginning of the year, I called the Special Education department, which is where you’re supposed to call to let them know this.

Her bus comes at about 7:15 each morning, except for when it doesn’t–usually because there is a substitute bus driver, or because there is some sort of maintenance issue. Usually (but not always) we get a robocall about the latter.

Baguette, meanwhile, loves the riding the bus. She is ready ahead of time, can hear it 1/2 mile away (I am not exaggerating), and is almost frantic to get the front door to the house open when it pulls up.

little girl boarding school bus

Today, the bus did not arrive. We waited on the porch for almost 20 minutes. There was no robocall.

So I called the Area Bus Supervisor, who was not there, and left a voicemail. Then I called Dispatch, which required a lot of time on hold before I spoke to a person, and many more short times on hold while that person talked to other people before finally let me know that Baguette was not on the route sheet.

Which is weird, because she was on a route sheet YESTERDAY.

Then I got Baguette into the car and called Special Education, who confirmed that their records showed that she was to be picked up in the morning and said that her “profile is active,” but that they did not see any routing information.

And then I called the Area Bus Supervisor again, and actually got a person. She remembered talking to me earlier in the year (when I was trying to get Baguette’s pickup time changed because I refused to cut into her inadequate sleep even more by waking her up before 6:00 a.m.), confirmed a.m.-only pickup, and said that the only thing she could think of was that sometimes “when you make some changes, the system goes ahead and bumps kids off of routes when it’s not supposed to.”

You know what? That’s not a system.

But she did email the person in charge of routing and get them to reinstate Baguette’s transportation starting tomorrow, and she called me to let me know it was fixed.

So that’s good. But to get it fixed, I had to make multiple phone calls to multiple offices for a total of 45 minutes, be late to work, and find breakfast out in the world (thanks, McDonalds!) because I hadn’t been able to eat at home the way I usually do.

This is going to happen again, because this is how it “works.” Nothing’s ever easy, and it’s always something.

Three Fall Dinners

I love roasted vegetables. Love, love, love them. It’s not quite cool enough for that yet (although we did have a delightfully fall-like First Day of Fall). With temperatures in the 90s this week, I think I’d rather hold off.

But I do have a few fall dinner dishes that are easy to cook and don’t make me feel like I’ve heated up the entire house. Some of them are soups. There’s very little measuring in these recipes.

One of my standbys is black bean soup. I once had a co-worker who ate black bean soup every day. I’m not at that point, but I do like to have the ingredients for this one around: diced onion, diced carrots, a can of black beans, vegetable broth, and a variety of spices. I saute the onions and the carrots in olive oil, rinse and drain the black beans, saute them with the onion-carrot mixture, add the broth and some water, season, and simmer for at least an hour. Then I blend it with the immersion blender.

It’s not very photogenic, so there’s no photo. It is delicious, though.

A new introduction is corn chowder. This may sound like it should be a standby, but I haven’t made it regularly in the past. This month, though, I came up with a recipe that I love and can easily make after I get home from work. Saute onions and then carrots in olive oil, dice a couple of small potatoes and mix them in, add vegetable broth and water, simmer until the potatoes are done, lower the heat a bit and add frozen corn and some half-and-half, and continue cooking until those ingredients are heated through. Somehow this winds up tasting buttery. I don’t know exactly why, but it does, and I’m happy about it.

Blue bowl with corn chowder

This next one I cook year-round. It makes me think of fall in the fall, but it is also a great summer recipe, so whatever. There is no sauce easier than Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce. If you haven’t made it, you may be skeptical about it: A can of whole, peeled tomatoes; half a stick of butter; an onion sliced in half; a bit of salt. Remove the onion and blend the remainder. That’s it. You think it needs basil and oregano and pepper and more. It doesn’t. You just put this on top of pasta and eat. I’m not saying you’re going to replace your regular recipe with this one–but, actually, I did.
Oh, and one more thing. Read labels and buy the low-sodium version of everything. You can add your own salt.

Bowl of rotini with Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce and parmesan

Beyond these? I’ve got a whole Pinterest board of recipes I hope to actually try, whether or not it’s fall. Maybe someday.

Singing

Baguette has been singing the classics:

For he’s a joggy good fellow,
For he’s a joggy good fellow.
For he’s a joggy good fellow
Which nobody canst deny.

Which nobody canst deny,
Which nobody canst deny.
For he’s a joggy good fellow
Which nobody canst deny.

–Baguette

The song accompanied work on this puzzle.

small girl working on 250-piece puzzle with an image of a girl, rabbits, fox, tree, flowers, and deer
It’s been a big week for puzzles.

Things I Said While Watching TV Tonight

Watching Matthew McConnaughey in a Lincoln ad:
Mr. Sandwich: Let’s see what Matthew McConnaughey is going to tell us about Lincolns today.
Me: There is something really unnerving about his teeth.

Watching Speechless:
Me: I identify with Jimmy and Dylan. Because I feel like it’s my job to stay calm and also I’m fighty. There’s a lot of conflict between these two parts of me.

Watching something that appears to be an action movie due to urgent driving:
Me: What is this? Is it Live Free and Die Harder in a Really Stupid Way?
Mr. Sandwich: It’s Batman v. Superman.
Me: Same thing.

Still watching Batman v. Superman:
Holly Hunter: The world has been so busy thinking about what Superman can do that we haven’t stopped to ask what he should do.
Me: Oh, I get it. Superman is Jurassic Park.

Still watching Batman v. Superman, even though we meant to go to bed 30 minutes ago:
Perry White: Headline: End of Love Affair with Man in Sky?
Me: Perry, that’s a terrible headline.

But, really, the amazing thing is that we got to watch TV. Do you know how rare it is for Baguette to sleep?

Fat Tuesday

I don’t follow Lenten traditions, but I do like pancakes. So I decided to get pancakes for lunch, and arbitrarily went to one of two places at a nearby intersection.

I ordered my combo plate and answered “sourdough” when they asked what kind of bread I wanted.

The plate showed up, and I was served two eggs over medium, bacon, some really unappealing hash browns, and two slices of sourdough toast.

That’s when I realized: when they asked about bread, they were including pancakes in the option.

But they brought me what I’d asked them to, so I ate some of it and then went across the street to the other place, where I went with the full-on decadent version of pancakes.

plate of pancakes with caramel sauce, bananas, and powdered sugar

Fat Tuesday, indeed.

Endings and Beginnings

Friday

Today was Baguette’s last day at the school she’s gone to for the past year and a half (almost). We fought hard to get her into that school, and in the end we succeeded. She spent last year in TK, and overall we were happy.

Pros: The special ed teacher was amazing. She really cared about Baguette–and all her kids–and went the extra mile (and then some) for them. The kids were welcoming to Baguette, and didn’t mind when she screamed, and kept reaching out to her even when she didn’t seem to respond. The parents were friendly and supportive and made sure that Baguette was invited to birthday parties. The office staff was delighted by her, and repeatedly told us how much progress they saw her making. The principal always said hi to her, and made sure she was included in the morale events he sponsored, and told us how much change he was seeing in her.

Cons: The TK teacher didn’t want Baguette in her class. It was obvious, and if we could tell, Baguette surely could. Seriously, I don’t think this teacher said a single positive thing about Baguette all year.

At the end of the year, they tried to get us to move her to a special day class in another school, instead of staying in the mainstream classroom. The original plan had been to give her two years, so we insisted on staying for kindergarten.

This year is kindergarten.

Pros: A new classroom teacher, and several of the children from her TK class.

Cons: A new special ed program and a new special ed teacher, neither of them a good fit. A new principal (she could be fine–I don’t know her–but it is change). A classroom teacher who didn’t seem resentful, but who didn’t connect with Baguette either.

The real problem was that Baguette wasn’t fully participating in the class, and wasn’t demonstrating mastery of the curriculum. I need to point out that I think the key word is demonstrating. Baguette is constantly learning, but she knows when she’s being tested, and she does not cooperate. It’s a challenge. But it doesn’t mean she isn’t learning what you’re teaching her.

The thing is, it was clear that the staffing changes at the school meant the school had changed. The parents and kids and office staff were still great, but the teachers and the assistant principal (who runs the IEP process) are going by the book, and their book doesn’t include Baguette.

You know who knows that? Baguette. She didn’t take to the new teachers. And like a lot of us, she performs better when she knows you want her around.

So we agreed to move her, and move her now, because hopefully there’s enough of the year left for her to adjust to a new classroom. If we like it, and she does well, we can keep her there next year. And if we don’t, we may be able to find another school for her. We’ll spend the spring looking at how to do that, so that we know what our options may be and how to make the most of them.

We’re sad about leaving that community, and we don’t really want to take this step–but since we’re taking it, we hope it will be a good one for Baguette.

Monday