Sunday, December 31, 2006

December 2006 photos

Here are some photos we took during December 2006. Click on the photo to the left to get to our December 2006 Picasa album.

Looking over these, I realize most of what I take is pictures of Ulysses, pictures of some great food we cooked, and pictures of Ulysses eating some great food we cooked. So our obsessions are pretty clear.

Also note Ulysses' disdain for clothing in general, even in December. In Wisconsin. When we can get a shirt on him, we're so happy about it, we don't care how long it stays on. Till the next bath, even. Now if only we could communicate to him somehow that if he wore boots and mittens, it would be fun to play in the snow, instead of instantly freezing. His hands and feet run hot -- like his father's -- so as soon as he touches snow, it melts into water. The water is freezing cold. And it makes his hands cold. So, thanks to the magic of conductivity -- water being a more powerful conductor than air, and all that -- his warm hands actually make for cold hands, if he grabs a handful of snow.

And, note how many pictures are of Ulysses playing with trains. His obsession.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Boo-boo

About two weeks ago, Ulysses used the word "boo-boo" for the first time. I've never used it, myself -- Don says he's said it. And it's used in a couple of often-seen TV episodes I can think of (Spongebob Squarepants: No Weenies Allowed; Go, Diego, Go: A Boo-Boo on the Pygmy Marmoset) Ulysses didn't just say it; he used it.

We were sitting together at the dining table. I was reading the Web on my laptop; he was atop my lap. (I suppose that makes him the actual laptopper in this story, but anyway...) I shifted position in such a way that the carving under the table scraped against his knee. He whimpered a little, but I didn't react. I was only partly conscious of it; I was reading. He whimpered a little more loudly. I reached out and patted his knee with my hand, glancing at him briefly before going back to reading. Then he said, in a clear, plaintive little voice, "Boo-boo!" The tone meant, "Hey! Don't you get what's going on here?" That stopped my distracted half-interaction. I stopped reading and leaned to kiss the boo-boo'd knee. Ulysses relaxed, and smiled.

A few mornings later, shortly after we'd gotten up, we were walking together in circles in the kitchen. I stopped walking; U walked into me, making slight contact against the back of my heel with his toe. "Boo-boo!" Don walked in to see me kissing U's foot. "Boo-boo?" he said. "Already?"

Now the slightest touch is call for "boo-boo!" Boo-boos everywhere; lots of kisses. Phantom boo-boos arise spontaneously, even while sitting still. Sometimes they travel from one hand to the other; we see him track them. "Boo-boo," he said, one evening, inspecting his right hand. Then his gaze traveled to his left hand, and it was as if his right was forgotten. "Boo-boo." Some third thing drew his mental focus; the boo-boo, evidently, vanished.

A few nights ago, I gave Ulysses an uninvited kiss on the forehead. He didn't like it. He wiped desperately at his forehead, and cried out a little. His voice started to get panicky. Then, all at once, he stopped. His hand held protectively near the afflicted region of his forehead, he looked at me piteously, and said, in a little voice, "Boo-boo." So I kissed his forehead. And somehow, that made it better.


Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Banana, cheese

When I came home from work today, Donald was excited. "He said lots of words all day long!" he said. "I asked him if he wanted a banana, and he looked at them and said, 'Banana!' Then I offered him some cheese, and he said, 'Cheese!'"

He also insisted on using the cheese slicer, apparently. It's the type that's officially called a "cheese plane" -- pull backward against the cheese and a sliver comes up through the slit in the metal. Don held onto it and guided U's hand for a slice or two. He's very interactive. If you're doing something manual that he might find interesting, you'd better be prepared to (a) let him do it, too; (b) guide him through motions sufficient for him to have the impression that he's doing it -- or at least helping -- while you actually make it happen; (c) get the both of you through a round of screaming as best you can; or (d) don't let him see you doing it.

In case you wondered: no, a toy version is not just as good from his point of view. In fact, offering a toy version is liable to insult him. Toy knife? Toy kitchen? They're fine for playing with, but not for real work! -- which is what he wants to do. Offer that, and get ready for some revved-up volume. Exceptions: a really good toy that you can do real stuff with. The other day, he wanted Don's pliers when he saw Don using them. Oh, how he wanted them! Wahhhh! Don frantically rummaged through U's toys until he found the toy pliers from Auntie Sharon in Missouri (Christmas, Aught 5). Life-size, gunmetal-colored, they are real pliers, just lightweight plastic instead of drop-forged steel. I didn't think it would work. It did!

Friday, December 1, 2006

Green Gunk is an American bestseller

A woman in Los Angeles has filed a class-action lawsuit against food industry giant Kraft for its misleading guacamole, which contains just a whisper of avocado -- about 2%, according to the LA Times article (see below). Even though the word "guacamole" means, in Aztec, "avocado sauce." (See my article on the etymology of the term.)

What's the goo made of, if not its eponymous fruit? Like most supermarket guacs: food starch, corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. With a dose of blue and yellow food coloring to simulate avocado green. Mmmm...

I found out about this on slashfood.com.

Guacamole lawsuit

An article in Thursday's Business section about a lawsuit alleging that Kraft Foods Inc. committed fraud in labeling a dip as guacamole referred to the product as one of the bestselling avocado dips in the nation. In fact, Kraft's product is ranked No. 13 among guacamole dips and has only a 3% dollar share of the guacamole-flavored-dip segment, according to market researcher ACNielsen.

Peanut butter is made from peanuts, tomato paste is made from tomatoes, and guacamole is made from avocados, right?

Wrong. The guacamole sold by Kraft Foods Inc., one of the bestselling avocado dips in the nation, includes modified food starch, hefty amounts of coconut and soybean oils, and a dose of food coloring. The dip contains precious little avocado, but many customers mistake it for wholly guacamole.

On Wednesday, a Los Angeles woman sued the Northfield, Ill.- based food company, alleging that it committed fraud by calling its dip "guacamole." Her lawyer says suits against other purveyors of "fake guacamole" could be filed soon.

The suit, which seeks class-action status, highlights the liberty some food companies take in labeling their products.

If consumers read the fine print, they would discover that Kraft Dips Guacamole contains less than 2% avocado. But few of them do. California avocado growers, who account for 95% of the nation's avocado crop, said they didn't know that store-bought guacamole contained little of their produce.

"We have not looked at this issue, but we might follow it now that we are aware of it," said Tom Bellamore, the top lawyer at the California Avocado Commission in Irvine.

Kraft and other food companies said they weren't deceiving customers by skimping on the avocado. A Kraft spokeswoman said most people understood that guacamole was part of the company's line of flavored dips.

"We think customers understand that it isn't made from avocado," said Claire Regan, Kraft Foods' vice president of corporate affairs. "All of the ingredients are listed on the label for consumers to reference."

Nonetheless, Kraft is relabeling the product, which could not be found during a random check of six Southern California supermarkets this week.

Regan said the company was changing its label to make it clearer that it was selling guacamole-flavored dip. She said she was not familiar with the lawsuit.

Brenda Lifsey, the plaintiff, said she made a three-layer dip with Kraft guacamole last year only to discover that it contained almost none of the ingredient she most expected: avocado.

"It just didn't taste avocadoey," said Lifsey, who identified herself as a federal employee who lives in Los Angeles. "I looked at the ingredients and found there was almost no avocado in it."

In her suit against Kraft, Lifsey is asking the Los Angeles County Superior Court to stop Kraft from marketing the dip as guacamole. She also wants attorneys' fees and unspecified punitive damages.

Lifsey has been a plaintiff in other lawsuits against large corporations. A few years ago, she joined a lawsuit against Sears, claiming that the retailer misrepresented that its Craftsman tools were U.S. made. That case is still in the courts. She also was part of a suit filed last year against vehicle reporting service Carfax Inc., alleging that it did not have access to police accident reports in California and other states even though it advertised that it could provide vehicle history records. Carfax denied the claims.

Unlike peanut butter, which by law must contain at least 90% peanuts, the Food and Drug Administration has no legal standard mandating how much avocado should be in guacamole. The FDA requires only that the labeling be truthful and not misleading, agency spokesman Michael Herndon said.

"For FDA to say that the food is misbranded because it contains only a small amount of avocado, we would have to find that the labeling is misleading, which would likely require some consumer data to prove the labeling is misleading," he said.

Consumer advocates say the FDA should either set standards or force Kraft and other manufacturers to better disclose how little avocado is in their dips.

"It is really deceptive marketing," said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, which three years ago called for more accurate labeling of guacamole dips.

At the time, Jacobson said the companies were "begging to be sued."

Like much of the prepared guacamole sold in supermarkets, Kraft guacamole is essentially a whipped paste made from partially hydrogenated soybean and coconut oils, corn syrup, whey and food starch. Yellow and blue dyes give it the green color.

That's probably not what the Aztecs had in mind when they invented guacamole about 700 years ago. They made a sauce called ahuaca-mulli, which roughly translates to "avocado mixture," according to the avocado commission. The dip was prepared by mashing avocados, sometimes with tomatoes and onions in a molcajete, a Mexican mortar and pestle.

In the modern recipe, some cooks add lime juice to keep the guacamole from discoloring. The dip has become an American tradition, especially on Super Bowl Sunday. About 50 million pounds of guacamole were consumed during the big game this year, according to the Hass Avocado Board in Irvine.

Kraft declined to give U.S. sales figures for its guacamole dip but said it was a very small-volume product.

With the right potato masher, making guacamole can be easier than pie. Brands such as Trader Joe's, Yucatan and Calavo use mainly avocado in their guacamole. But other companies opt for cellulose gum, avocado powder and ample food coloring.

When it acquired the Dean's food line last year, Ventura Foods of Brea discovered that Dean's Zesty Guacamole Dip contained skim milk, eggs and some avocado pulp. But Ventura decided not to change the recipe, said Christina Ong, a company marketing manager.

"I have no idea what consumers expect," she said.

Many consumers say they expect to find lots of avocado in their guacamole.

"This is surprising: It's skim milk, oil and soybean," said Long Beach utility worker Dave Oehlman as he read the ingredient list of an Albertson's brand at the supermarket chain's store on Spring Street in Long Beach. "You would have thought they would put more avocado in this."

"You have to keep it green. How do they do that?" he asked before reading the label that disclosed the doses of food coloring.

His companion, Christy Cloughy, said, "I'm going to stick to avocado."

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Hooray for real food - and common sense!



Here's my Amazon.com review of this book, which I haven't read yet. I discovered it poking around on the site after reading most of The Way We Eat by Peter Singer -- which I plan to write about on this blog. I saw this book, and that it had only 19 reviews. Mostly I just wanted to say a word or two and do the good deed of making the number of customer of reviews 7% longer. But of course I got carried away.

Real Food, by Nina Planck
Bloomsbury USA
ISBN: 1596911441
My one-line summary: If you need a factory to make it, it's probably not real food -- and really not good for you.
Link: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product//1596911441/ref=cm_rv_thx_view/102-3621894-2157723

Hooray for real food - and common sense!, November 15, 2006
Reviewer: Vesna Kovach "duonexus" (Madison, Wis. USA) - See all my reviews
Hooray! I'm thrilled that there's another voice crying in the wilderness, joining the likes of Sally Fallon (Nourishing Traditions) and Uffe Ravnskov (The Cholesterol Myths) in promoting real food over the fabricated analogs so in vogue in modern health literature.

So much dietary advice comes at us from all media these days, and much of it just seems founded in bizarre suppositions: the idea that we can be so darn certain about the long-term effects of food products and eating habits that are, relatively speaking, brand new.

For instance, we're told that a certain nutrient is essential, but that it's impossible to get enough of it from its natural food source. Three bushels of kale, 1200 tomatoes, that sort of thing. So we should eat some factory-made product that's fortified with the proper amount of the substance. Now, how could this possibly be? How could our bodies require any dosage that has been, for all but the last five minutes of human history, technologically impossible to ingest?

Here's another. The mainstream recommendation today is for low-fat dairy products for everyone who has reached the age of two. But consider this. I was a child only a few decades ago. No kid was subjected to low-fat anything. Low-fat versions of this, that and the other thing didn't even exist then. Yet, it was very unusual for any kid to be overweight. There would be one or two obese children among a given age in an entire elementary school. Today, children are increasingly fed low-fat (read: fake) versions of everything, and childhood obesity rates continue to climb. If full-fat dairy makes kids fat, why isn't it the reverse? Why didn't the childhood obesity epidemic occur when children ate full-fat products?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Slava with a friend, and Djuvec recipe


My friend Michelle came over to celebrate Slava with us today, and we cooked and feasted into the late hours. Michelle is fast becoming our Serbian holiday co-celebrant de rigeur -- she's already come for two Serbian Christmases in a row.

November 14 is my family Slava -- a Serbian custom celebrating the patron saint of the family. In my case, we have two, Sveti Kuzman i Damian (Cosmas and Damian). Slava originated way back when the Serbs converted to Christianity; the history is not completely known, but it's thought that they didn't want to abandon their family patron gods. That was the dealbreaker. When offered patron saints to replace their family gods, the pot was, evidently, sufficiently sweetened.

It's not known (as far as I can tell) whether the saints and saint days chosen corresponded in some way to the original gods of the household. Some say the date of a family's Krsna Slava is the anniversary of the day the family was originally baptized into Christianity. At any rate, I'm happy to observe it each year because the lineage reaches back into Serb antiquity even farther back than Serbian Orthodoxy, which is itself, in discourse at least, so often the non plus ultra of Serbian identity and heritage .

Most articles I've found on the Web (here's one) that explain Slava are heavily doctrinaire, and choked with a peculiarly stuffy religiosity that makes it hard for me, at least, to read. I do like this Wikipedia article.

Being an American, too, I made merry on the weekend date closest and most convenient to the authentic date. That's the American way of observance. (Thanksgiving is a notable exception; if it were being established today, it never would be set as a Thursday. And Christmas and New Year's Day wander peskily throughout the week. VIP birthdays and other commemorations, though, may be condensed and corralled with impunity to benefit the business calendar.)

Any get-together is a good reason to make fabulous food, especially a Serbian holiday. We made gibanica, djuvec, pogaca and, of course, kolach. I plan to get recipes for absolutely everything up on the blog eventually. For now, here is a heavenly djuvec. Enjoy!

Djuvec (JOO-vech, with a hard “j” as in “jingle”)
(Meat and vegetable casserole)

Djuvec is a Serbian layered casserole. It falls into the category of one-pot meals that are named after the vessel in which they are prepared. Another example is, in fact, the casserole; it’s the French word for a shallow baking pan.

Djuvec at its best is mellow and succulent, with a complex play of meat and vegetable flavors. It’s meant to be served straight out of the pot. As the top layer of sliced tomatoes roasts and concentrates, it becomes both decorative and delicious

I’m amazed by how much flavor this dish carries, since the seasoning is so minimal. It’s a wonderful tribute to the powerful deliciousness of vegetables. Tasting this dish, I realized I’ve come to rely on herbs, spices and stocks to create the flavor profile of a dish, using vegetables mainly for their volume, texture and color – but not especially for flavor. This djuvec brings home how potent are the tastes of tomato, of eggplant, of bell pepper, of celery. Onion, too, even though it isn’t caramelized, is a big player in this dish.

This recipe is adapted from one that I found in Yugoslav Cookbook (1963, Izdavacki Zavod Jugoslavija). That one calls for green peppers instead of red, and for 3 pounds of fresh, sliced tomatoes, instead of 1 pound fresh and 2 cans of crushed. The book calls for equal parts beef and pork, or, alternately, lamb.

It doesn’t specify what cut of pork (or anything else) to use. I chose country-style ribs – a cheaper cut with a moderately long cooking time and a fairly hefty amount of fat and flavor. Its strong pork presence can be overwhelming, but that’s a strength when you want flavor that will permeate a great big pot of food. Another good choice, I’ll warrant, would be pork belly. I’d love to try this with pork we’ve smoked in the smoker we built this summer, and with other meats as well. By contrast, a bad choice would be something like pork tenderloin – a delicacy that’s marvelous on its own, simply rubbed with salt, pepper and herbs and grilled or flashed cooked to medium rare. But it doesn’t have a lot of flavor to spare, and it would just get lost in a accompanying stew.

This dish is assembled in layers. Use a heavy pot with a big footprint. This recipe will fill two standard Dutch ovens. Halve the recipe for a single Dutch oven. I used a massive French oven casserole, which is similar to a Dutch oven, but its oval shape makes it suitable for use as a roaster as well. Ours is made by Club, and it’s a beauty in white-enameled cast iron with a black enamel interior. We got it at a Goodwill in the early 1990s for 10 bucks. What a fabulous deal.

Ingredients
1 large eggplant, cubed
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
Handful parsely, chopped
1 1/2 pounds onions, quartered
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 pound fresh tomatoes, sliced
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 t black pepper, approx.
4 pounds country-style pork ribs, cut off the bone and cut in 1" cubes
1 1/2 cups olive oil
1/3 cup uncooked white rice, or 1 cup day-old cooked rice

Instructions
In a mixing bowl, toss together all the vegetables (except tomatoes and crushed tomatoes) with the salt, pepper and 1/2 cup of the olive oil.

In a heavy skillet over highest heat, sear the pork until nicely browned. (Sear pork in batches small enough that they don’t crowd the pan, so that there is enough space for evaporation. Otherwise, they’ll start to boil without browning.)

Put down layers in this order:
1 can crushed tomatoes
Half of the veggies
Rice
Meat
Remaining veggies
1 can crushed tomatoes
Sliced tomatoes
1 cup olive oil

Bake at 350 F for about 2 hours, or until the meat is tender and the rice is thoroughly cooked. Remove the lid for the second hour, to get the tomatoes to form a nice crust.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Scorin' at Savers, Part II

Remember those Audubon birds? Four in a sack marked $2.99 at Savers. Score!

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Biggest Fan

This summer, we had an intense, painful heat wave. But now it's September, and the highs are often in the 60s.

Donald told me he took the double fan out of the bedroom window today, while I was at work. But it made Ulysses upset. "So, you put it back in?" I asked.

"I had to," he replied. "And then I had to plug it in."

"He wanted it plugged in?"

"He insisted on it! So I closed the outer window behind the fan, sort of. I just now took it out and put it away, now that he's asleep." Then he added, apologetically, "It was cold!"

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Farmer U

Oh, how I wished I had a camera!

U and I went down to the 8th annual Food for Thought Festival of sustainable agriculture by the Capitol Square. I hadn't planned on going, but attending the reception at L'Etoile yesterday after work got me wanting to go. I was among those invited for working on or helping to publicize the event. It was my third invite -- I had an article about the fest in Madison Magazine in 2001, and one in Dane County Kids in 2002. This time I featured co-keynoter Mollie Katzen in my monthly ANEW column. Seeing all my old foodie friends from pre-U days got me pining for the ol' scene, so the next morning, I packed him in the van and we drove on down.

What with running circles after U, I got to hear about 10 minutes of co-keynoter Anna Lappe's talk, and just enough of the baba ganouj cooking demo by Chef Sabi to get a sample at the end, realize that it was the best BG I'd ever tasted, and not have any idea what it was that made it so much tastier and creamier than mine. But I didn't mind. It was fun just to be there, to be in a crowd, to be outside, to bump into various acquaintances, and to be out with U.

All over downtown are the lifesize, painted, fiberglass statues of the CowParade. U enjoyed running from one to another, gently patting their sides and looking at the pictures painted on them. During Lappe's talk, he was absorbed with looking at the pictures of animals on a cow's side, patting them, and making their sounds. A doggie: "arf, arf." A kitty: "mew." A pig: "oink." And so on. Occasionally he would let out a short, high-pitched "moo" to the fiberglass cows themselves. One was rigged like an old-fashioned locomotive engine. That one was for trying hard to climb up on and into.

While we were walking back to the van, we encountered Brown Swiss in front of the post office. No gimmicky shapes or bright colors or fanciful designs: just elegant tiles in shades of creamy brown. Ulysses stopped.

He walked all around Brown Swiss, slowly all the while gazing at her, as if reverently. Then he circled behind her, reached his hands between her hindlegs, firmly grasped a pair of udders and started squeezing. And making squirty sounds through his teeth.

Farmer U was hard at work this way for several minutes, scampering from one member of the herd to another, then hunkering down to serious milking. Much to the delight of passersby. A group of teenage girls walked past. I thought they might faint with glee, they were so thrilled at the sight of the little shirtless boy squatting in his blue microfiber shorts, earnestly milking statues of cows.

Saturday, September 9, 2006

Toys: Not for people

This post still needs links and pics. The original Blogware post


Saturday. We needed lots of groceries. After a leisurely breakfast, and with U in a good mood, we ran some errands together and then headed to Woodman's. U was in a good mood, but evidently it was not a mood for grocery shopping. Don pushed the cart around the produce section while I alternately ran in circles after U or held him while he squirmed to be put down. As we began down the meat aisle, the squirming got beyond the level I could overcome.

Time for our standing Plan B for grocery shopping: one of us takes U to a playground while the other shops. Don and I agreed to meet in an hour at the pickup door. I bundled up Ulysses best I could and headed for the exit. Squalling. I walked outside, booking for the van. Squalling and twisting. I stopped and let him down onto the parking lot asphalt to see what he wanted. He turned 180 degrees and made straight for the supermarket entrance.

So he wanted to be in the grocery store -- just not following around after boring ol' us.

First, it was an extended tour of the produce section. I took on the job of keeping people from accidentally walking into this small person with their carts, or whirling into him as they turned from the produce displays to heft their bags of plums or sacks of onions into their carts.

Then it was along the seasonal aisle, past the early scatterings of Halloween candy and the leavings of picnic supplies. Next past the long line of registers. Then into the pet section -- but hold on, what's this? A tall display of colorful, soft and cuddly plush birds from the Audubon Society, complete with electronic bird songs authentic to each species, bearing the imprimateur of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Society! Collectibles. Just press the bird's belly, and it bursts into song. We had found our home for the next 40 minutes. The intricate, melodic twittering of a Purple Finch. The various rappings of a Pileated Woodpecker and a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker.

For some reason, the Nighthawk, with its plaintive cheeping, scared Ulysses. When I showed him the bird, he looked apprehensive. When I squeezed it so it sang, he screamed a little and ran away, and not in a kidding way. He loved all the other birds, and the gray and red squirrels with their barkings, too. I came back to the Nighthawk a few times, experimentally, and each time he was upset.

A girl of perhaps 7 came by with an older woman -- her grandmother, I guessed -- who was pushing a cart of groceries. "Oh, these are nice," she said, and looked up at her grandmother with something like hope.

"No," said the grandmother. "Those aren't toys. Those are for people." And she pushed on past us.

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Podcast Glory, or, I become an unlikely crazed fan

This post still needs links. The original Blogware post


So excited that my comments got included in the unofficial Project Runway podcast! With my name and everything!

Dinksontv.com is a DC-area couple who produce two podcasts each week that the show is running -- a pre-show and a post-show. Sound obsessive? Sure, but what the heck. A few weeks ago, I'd never even watched the darn thing and it sounded completely uninteresting: a reality show based on a competition among fashion designers. OK. So what.

But this is what happened. Don and I watched Hell's Kitchen on Fox all summer, and boy, were we disappointed. Didn't learn a darn thing about food, cooking, cuisine, or even the culinary point of view of the competitors. Just were subjected to a lot of bitchfest namecalling, infighting, tears, and endless rerunning of highlights clips. Earlier this year, we had enjoyed watching Top Chef on Bravo. That was what made us tune in to HK. But it fell short. Meantime, I kept seeing references here and there about Project Runway, also on Bravo, notably that Top Chef was based on Project Runway, and from the same producers. So I decided to give it a look. In prortest of HK, really. My thinking: it has GOT to be better than Hell's Kitchen. If it's put together well, and with integrity, and if it's about skilled people pushing themselves to the limit and using their creativity to win a clearly defined terrific prize, then perhaps it won't matter what the skill is -- cooking, or something that I wouldn't otherwise give a thought to, like designing clothes.

My thinking was right. I was hooked in the first five minutes, which happened to be one of the early episodes of the third season, Episode 4: Reap What You Sew. Wow! What a show about people. Interesting people, and interesting interpersonal dynamics. I guess I'm part of some grand convergence, because since then I read that this particular episode that night was the most-watched show/time spot in the history of Bravo. Funny. The thought struck me to check the show out, so I input it into TiVo, only to see that the show was actually in progress right at that moment. It was about ten minutes into. Perhaps I tuned into the consciousness of all those millions of people watching. Hundredth Monkey and all that.

By the time Episode 5: Fit For a Queen came around, I had already watched and rewatched all the other Season 3 episodes and was hungry for more, thanks to a combination of Bravo's generous rerun schedule and the magic of TiVo. To feed the hungry for more part, Bravo kindly supplied an official podcast narratied by one of the show's hosts, and the DINKs kindly produce their unofficial one. I've been listening on my Sansa MP3 player, which, coincidentally, I got in early August, right around the same time I tuned in to Project Runway.

Here's the e-mail I sent the DINKs. Glenn wrote back to me almost right away and encouraged me to rent or buy the other seasons. These guys are just super-nice. To listen to the podcast, follow this link. The part where they read my brilliant insights, and talk about how Bev wants to move to Madison, is right around minute 31. To hear it on the air was thrilling!

Subject: Jeffrey's deep purple betrayal
From: Vesna Kovach
Date: Thu, August 31, 2006 8:51 pm
To: dinks@dinksontv.com

Glenn and Bev,

Love your show! I listen to it on the way to work and back, and often wish there were more. Don't worry about editing down your 2 1/2 hours' worth of material. Just cut it into three parts, and PR-and-DoTV fans will eat it up! :)

Here's what I wrote to tell ya:

Jeffrey! He won the challenge with the deep purple jacket he refused to make for Angela's mother! Remember, "I'm not going to make a jacket in two days." But for his skinny rock star self? Seven hours? Not a problem!

Angela's mother did not say "dark purple" or "dark green." She said, "deep." And she preceded that by saying, with enthusiasm, "I love COLORS!" Jeffrey saw her as a crone, just because of her sex and age. For him, she didn't deserve nice clothes. Remember he said he just wanted her to go away? That's how he dressed her. He swallowed her up in blackness, to disappear.

That purple jacket was Angela's mother's idea!

Vesna
(44, F, Madison, Wisconsin, new to PR this season)

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Orton Park Fest

This post still needs links. The original Blogware post


U and I went to the Orton Park Festival with our friend Michelle, who recently moved to just about a block from there. It was the third year in a row that U and I had gone down there. I think. Maybe we just went once, two years ago. We saw Lou and Peter Berryman play -- fantastic, of course -- and bought a dark red long-sleeved T-shirt with the Orton Park Festival logo on it (No year on it, so can't use that as a clue) from a table manned by Cynthia Nolen, who was at the time a teacher at the East-West Healing Arts Institute, where at the time I was the school administrator. (I think. Unless it happened last summer.) Two years ago, I bought a sarong with the sun and moon and other celestial objects from a table with fantastic Indonesian wares, and used it in the Touching the Ground ceremony we held for then 6-month-old Ulysses the following weekend.

This year, Michelle and I walked on over and beelined to the beer tent. Or tried to -- we got sidetracked chatting with Chris, the person who, with his wife Polly, introduced me to Great Big Pictures. During the chat, U climbed down from my arms and began exploring, so I went in pursuit. Finally, success and a pair of Capital Octoberfests.

U was desperate to drink some Octoberfest. Very cute, except for the part where he wasn't going to quit and the brimming plastic pint glass was not going to survive. Brilliant idea: ice cream. We got in line at the Chocolate Shoppe booth -- ten flavors and no vanilla, can you believe it? As the last person before us was turning to leave, Ulysses found himself eye-to-scoop with her waffle cone mounded with ice cream. He was stunned. He had had no idea that the magical substance was nearby. His eyes widened and his body tensed. It was like a cartoon where the character's eyes bug out into pointy cones directed at the object of shock. "Eh!" he fairly shouted.

But, without vanilla, what flavor to get? I didn't want to spend $2.50 on a cone that might then be rejected. Fortunately, the person at the booth -- she had a 4-year-old herself, she told me -- was happy to give us a test spoon. We started with Malted Milk, after the assurance that it didn't have any pieces of stuff in it. U looked suspicicously at the spoon I held before him. "No...no," and some head shaking. I darted in with the spoon and lightly touched it to his lips, then drew it back. And waited for a verdict. First, the crinkly face. Then the look of delight. Then, reaching for the spoon. "One scoop in a cone of Malted Milk, please." Success!

And hours passed before he noticed my interesting beer again!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Book: Inventing the Child


Following is my review of:
Inventing the Child: Culture, Ideology, and the Story of Childhood (Children's Literature and Culture)
Author: J. Zornado
Publisher: Routledge
ISBN: 0415979668
Genre: Literature & Fiction/History & Criticism
Pages: 256
Summary: 400 years of children's literature teaching authority, obedience and violence

To use the type of language that quickly becomes familiar to a reader of this book:

The dominant culture reproduces itself by telling itself stories about itself. These stories tell of the rightness of obedience to authority, of the natural order of hierarchy, of power, of the obvious right of the strong to use violence and force to coerce the weak, of the need of the subjugated to be controlled. Children learn these stories, which reinforce the realities that they themselves experience and that they see around them.

By telling these stories about children (or stand-ins for children, as Curious George the monkey represents a child), adults create the notion of what a child is. The child grows into an adult who is shaped by lessons learned -- through stories and through experience -- at so fundamental and unconscious a level that these precepts seem to be reality itself. Nurture is taken for nature, training for instinct, and so on.

Zornado reviews 400 years of children's literature, as well as pedagogy and mainstream thinking about the nature of children and childhood, in the Western world. The results are eye-opening and can be more than a little disturbing.

It is easy to feel outrage and to distance ourselves from the cultural world revealed in earliest examples given, among them the school primer alphabet that read, in part: "A: In Adam's fall we sinned all...J: Job felt the rod but loved God," when learning how extensively beating was used to make children behave and remind them of their sinfulness and inferiority. The interpretations of more modern texts are more apt to make us squirm, from the readings of Babar as a celebration of colonialism and Barney as a lesson in happiness through group conformity and consumerism, and the Lion King as a text of racial hierarchy and dinine monarchical right.

Some are sure to protest that children's stories are by their nature innocuous and that Zornado's whole enterprise is overblown, perhaps silly. But the interesting fact remains that children's literature, as Zornado points out, is the only category of literature produced entirely by people who are not its own target audience.

Sunday, July 2, 2006

Daisy Age 2006

This post still needs links and pics. The original Blogware post


In July 2004, I posted this picture of me and Baby U here. This year, we wanted to get an updated shot while the daisies were in bloom.
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Lunch

This post still needs links and pics. The original Blogware post

A good honest burger made over hot charcoal. Mighty hard to argue with.

Cole slaw recipe courtesy of Tyler Durden, I mean Tyler Florence.

In the background: Southern Sweet Tea, our own recipe. Also, a sliver of Don in his Hawaiian shirt for the day. Chillin' on our Fourth of July weekend vacation.

I picked up the burger ingredients at the new neighborhood grocery, Pierce's, after spending a couple of hours there writing my article for ANEW magazine for August. Subject: beekeeper Mary Celley. Pierce's has a comfy coffeeshop-like area, with free wireless Internet. They even have free coffee, which is usually pretty good (but was pretty bad today). Why go to a real coffeeshop when you can go to a free one? And get some shopping done, besides.

Saturday, July 1, 2006

Fireworks, not

Tonight was the biggest fireworks display in the Midwest. It takes place every year in a park 1/2 mile from us. We thought about walking up the hill and watching it from the mobile home park where a lot of people set up lawn chairs every year. But the thought of Ulysses running around in the dark in that big crowd near the main road and possibly getting away from me scared me. And if he got lost he couldn't even talk to explain to anyone who he was and where he belonged. Maybe next year he'll be mature enough for us to go. So we just stayed in and he watched some old cartoons from the 30s, 40s and 50s while I did stuff in the kitchen. Then out of nowhere came a big lightning storm with huge winds that blew our stuff right out of our yard! It started up around 9:15, right around when the fireworks were scheduled to go off. A freak incident. Nature's fireworks.

Smokin' Butt

This post still needs links and pics. The original Blogware post

A few weeks ago, Don saw a Good Eats episode where host Alton Brown, a fanatical do-it-yourselfer, constructs a smoker out of terra cotta flower pots, using a hot plate and a pie pan for heating wood chips and a round grill to suspend the food. He's been talking about it ever since. Then he sat me down and made me watch the episode, too (he had recorded it). "After you watch this, you'll want to do this right away!" he said. He was right.

So we've both been excited about this and laying plans to built this clay smoker contraption for our long weekend together around the Fourth.

The Fourth is on Tuesday this year, and I have paid holiday from my wonderful job where they actually respect workers; I also requested, months ago, to take Monday off as well.
A four-day break! The longest we've been home together for a long time. Don took a few days off from work last summer when he was still at Union Cab, the sham workers' paradise. He had a few hours of paid time off, about a day's worth, and the rest was unpaid. (The managers gets two weeks' paid time off in a year; the drivers sweat to earn a few hours over the course of a year. A workers' paradise! How again, exactly?) The unpaid-ness of the break lent an underlying strained quality to it, because we couldn't really afford the time off, although we needed it so desperately.

Anyway. Four days off, without any cut in pay. Woo-hoo! It is a tremendously relaxing sensation.

The cut we used is the same as in the episode, pork butt. Alton purports to explain why a cut from the top of the shoulder is called the butt. However! As you see if you check the transcript, he really doesn't. I read years ago that butt, or Boston butt, is so named from the stout wooden barrels used for packing it back in the day. The meat came to be known for the name of the container.

A quick check in my Merriam-Webster's 12th tells that "butt" meaning a large cask has been in use since 14th century Middle English, coming through Middle French butte and Old Provencal botta from the Late Latin buttis. That's the same Late Latin word that gave us "bottle."

By contrast, "butt" meaning the part of you that you sit upon is short for "buttocks." That usage also dates from Middle English, but it has a different derivation: Low German butt, meaning blunt.

Twelve hours in the smoker! The sky threatened rain -- not good when you're using a hot plate outdoors. But the weather held. We put an eggplant in there, too, and I made baba ganoush out of it later. Boy, that BG was some strong stuff, with all that smoke flavor. You had to wait a day for all the garlic and smoke and all to settle down together before you could enjoy it without being blindsided by it.

The pulled pork was tender and flavorful as promised. Worth the hassle? Yes, yes, yes! We can't wait to do it again! Pulls apart easily by fork or fingers. We shredded it and served it on on buns with my favorite cole slaw on the side.

Don on the taste of the Q: "It was definitely smoky. And the smoke was all through the meat. It was that warm smoke taste." Tender! If only the meat were a little fattier, I think, it would have come out jucier. Damn those low-fat enthusiasts and their pervasive influence on... on much too much.

Here's the official recipe for pulled pork on the Food Nework site. It doesn't capture the crazed essence of Alton tinkering with his homespun food tech projects. For that, you need to visit this Good Eats fan site. You can navigate to the episode named "Q," which contains the flower pot sequence, here. Astoundingly, this guy has transcripts, complete with scene-by-scene screenshots, of nearly every episode. Something like this is really essential for following a Good Eats plan. It's about a lot more than just a recipe.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Sleeping babe

This post still needs pic. The original Blogware post

Ulysses likes to nap on the couch. Well, maybe it's better said: when he naps, Ulysses would rather be on the couch. Any sentence inlcuding the phrase "Ulysses likes to nap" is probably overstating the case.
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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Sandbox

This post still needs a pic. The original Blogware post

Sunday, June 11, 2006

First roar; first flower

This post still needs links and pics. The original Blogware post

Ulysses held up a toy T-Rex -- a dark purple, realistically styled, suede-ish critter about 4" high, once merchandise from my street vendor days in Philly -- and said, all throaty and gutteral, "Rar! Rarr!"

Another first today: Ulysses gave his mother a flower. That's me!

We made awesome chicken and dumplings from a Food 911 show we saw Saturday morning. Starts out with roasting the chicken with fresh herbs tucked under the skin and stuffed into the cavity. This morning, I took U out to our herb container garden and gathered some rosemary, marjoram, oregano and sage. Also chives, in full purple bloom.

As I was working at the cutting board, I felt a tap at my side. Which I ignored, at first. It repeated. Finally, I looked down. Ulysses was looking up at me, his hand outstreched. In it, the long, stout, green stem of a chive flower, a purple puff of color at its end. A flower. For me. I took it, thrilled. "Svetich jedan za Mama tvoja!" (A flower for your mother!) I said. He smiled and seemed to expand in his joy. Ulysses sniffed big sniffs: "A flower, smell it!" he seemed to be saying. I held it to my nose and sniffed. He beamed.

Later, Don and U and I went walking through the construction near our house, the environmentally friendly retooling of Starkweather Creek. I picked a couple of wildflowers and gave them to Don. Ulysses plucked them from his hand and gave them to me.

Big mud puddle on the way home. U stomped and splashed in it, gleefully. After our long walk and adventures in the greenery, and a long day including a trip to Savers and a new grab bag including little cars and, an electronic Name That Tune gadget, U was tired and fragile. Don carried him in his arms and said to the form draped over his shoulder, "We're going home, and you can have a nice, warm bath." And so he did, the muddiest tub ever, filled with his favorite pouring toys.

Thursday, June 1, 2006

14th Anniversary

This post still needs pics and links. The original Blogware post

Today is our 14th wedding anniversary! It's been a long road from that June morning in 1992 that we drove to Las Vegas, six days after we met, and got hitched by the County Commissioner in the municipal building minutes after the office opened.

We stopped for Chinese food in Barstow on the way back to Los Angeles. In honor of that wedding meal, I brought takeout from the China Wok on Fordem Avenue, right along my route home from work at Great Big Pictures Now we buy three egg rolls instead of our old custom of two -- one for each of us, and now there are three of us.
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Monday, May 1, 2006

A-too! The big sneeze

by duonexus on Mon 01 May 2006 07:04 PM CDT | Permanent Link | Cosmos
Ulysses's latest favorite thing to do is the big sneeze. He tilts his head back, opens his mouth and preps expertly with a series of stacatto inhalation-exhalations: "Ahh-a, ahh-a, ahh-a..." His head bounces and forward and back, just a little, with each one. Then there's the big pause, as he faces the ceiling, his back arched. Then the denoument: "Aaaa-TOO!" He looks up at me with a grin. "Aah-choo!" I echo, and we laugh together at the drama.

"Aaaa-too! Aaa-TOO!" The game continues. Ulysses throws out the faux sneezes, one after the other. It's easy to miss how carefully he's delivering each one. Sometimes he watches my mouth and comes closer to the "ch" sound, on his next repeat, then appears pleased with the accomplishment. "Aaa-ttt-sss-oo!"

When the game began -- or when I first noticed it -- his sneezes were closer to "Aa-ta!" I mimicked the sound he was making, but he didn't seem to like it. Then I realized he was doing sneezes. "Aah-CHOO!" I did my best fake sneeze. He liked that, and after a few more attempts got his own "oo" sound going in the second syllable.

For over a year, he's been saying, "Oooooooo!" in expressing pleasure. I hadn't expected that putting "ooo" inside a word would be a challenge. There it was.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Leave them to it

The weather has been beautiful for about a week now, climbing sometimes even into the low 70s. That means taking Ulysses to the playgrounds and parks for the first time since last fall, and it means more opportunities to see adults interacting with their children and grandchildren.

And once again, nearly every encounter makes me cringe.

Am I just judgmental, and a kook? Am I so far outside the mainstream in my thinking? Or is there some validity to my point of view?

It feels like what I'm hoping for is so basic, something that should be the norm rather than the hoped-for exception: big people letting their little ones be themselves. Not attempting at every moment to bend them to some purpose. Meeting them where they are, rather than steadily working to bring them somewhere else.

I've even come to dread when grown-ups arrive with their kids at the playground, because the time from their arrival to the first thing that ties me in knots inside is, inevitably, so blasted short.

I went to the Northland playground last week with U after work. There were three people there, two women -- perhaps they were a mother and her grown daughter -- and a little girl (who, it turned out, was born two days after U). The girl (dressed in regulation little-girl-pink shoes, frilled jeans, and a striped shirt whose colors included pink) went up on the gym again and again, sometimes going down the spiral slide and sometimes down one of the twin straight slides.

The women never went up on the gym once -- I've come to expect that. They stood on the ground offering a torrent of coaching, cajoling, instruction, correction.

"Go up the steps! Keep going! OK, now go down! Down! Go down now! Go down the slide! No, the other one! Well, OK, you can go down that one. Put your feet out in front of you. No, not like that! Out in front. Wait, stop! That's right." Not for an instant, when she was on the equipment, did she get space to explore and be, just be. To think about what she liked and didn't like up there, to decide where she wanted to turn. Of course, she did ultimately decide which way to turn, but the currents in and against which she swam were strong. And loud! As she grows, as she's better able she to understand what her big people are saying, the current will only swell.

Every time the kid got to the top of a slide, the exhortations to put her feet out in front of her came in a steady hail. Sure enough, I noticed, she truly didn't sit down properly at first, but she would kneel or otherwise seat herself so that her legs would be all a-tangle if she were to start sliding that way.

Ulysses got atop the straight slide, and he stood at the top, starting his slide from there. He tumbled! Because of the super-duper safety design, though, he was safe. But I was chagrined. The little girl's mother, who stayed on the ground near the top of the slide, caught him and helped straighten out his postion, so that he slid comfortably the rest of the way down. Maybe there was something to this direction thing.

The second time U used the slide, he tumbled again, trying to start his slide from a standing start in the same way as before. The girl's mother was elsewhere, and I didn't catch him, either. He bumped onto his bottom roughly on his way down. Oops. So that's why they keep telling that girl how to sit, I thought. It seemed like a good idea just then.

The third time, Ulysses seated himself carefully at the top of the slide, his feet straight out in front of him. From then on, no tangled feet -- that day or since, come to think of it.

My point, in case it doesn't speak loudly enough for itself:

Repeatedly being told where you should put your feet in order to slide the way you're told to slide

is not as good as

Having the opportunity to find out where you want to put your feet in order to slide the way you want to slide.

OK.

Later on, a young, slim, fashionable woman showed up with a one-year-old (my est.) and a big dog. Tying the dog to the stroller and taking out the kid, she tells him, "Now be careful and don't get dirty, because you've already had your bath. Stay clean! You've had your bath already, so don't get dirty." All right now, be sure to stay clean!" Repetition and all.

I couldn't keep quiet through all that. I laughed good-naturedly and said, "Good luck with that." She smiled, too. Success -- I made friendly contact with one of the big people!

I was trying not to be disingenuous, to really be coming from that I'm-on-your-side kidding place. Trying.

But my inclination was to have said, instead, "What a heavy trip to lay on that kid! Either forget about the bath and let him be himself at the playground, or else don't come to the park! What did you give him a bath for, anyway? You put those two things together that don't go together -- bath and trip to playground. If it doesn't work, it's your doing, not his."

The baby, just learning to walk, climbed the steps, eager and happy. So eager, he reached a foot way over to a higher step, and then couldn't progress right away, because his legs were spread so far apart.

I remember U working out that sort of thing last summer. Struggling, sometimes rooted to one spot for many seconds before dropping to his knees, or inching his feet to where they needed to be, or grabbing a handrail, or taking my hand for extra balance, or whatever other solution he devised. Sometimes he would finally turn to me, reaching up with a hand, signaling he wanted help, his face sometimes tilting up to me, but more often still pointed, intent, toward his goal. I would give help instantly, meting out the level of assistance I thought he wanted, careful not to overstep my invitation.

"If you put this foot here closer to the step, you'll be able to go up easier. Here, move it closer. Like this, look. Move it closer -- ergh." The woman was hovering close above her baby, moving his feet for him. The baby was struggling against it.

What's going on? Are Americans so determined to get to the top of the stairs that they can't imagine any instance where the process of climbing the stairs trumps getting to the top of the stairs?

The kid is going to learn how to walk. He's going to climb stairs. What's the hurry? Is it so difficult to see -- anyone can climb stairs. The same cannot be said of problem solving.

It doesn't seem like such a big deal to us, climbing stairs. I think that's because we don't remember learning to do it. It is a big deal. And when each stair comes up to about your kneecap -- that would be a big deal even for you, even today. (That's what I tell people who comment on what a fuss U seems to be making, huffing and puffing and grunting gleefully, while he's hauling himself up the five flights of stairs from the lower level to the lobby of the Princeton Club where we go swimming on Saturday mornings.)

Learning to do it yourself, figuring out the nuances that make it work and not work. Realizing that when your lower foot is closer to the step, you can pull yourself up that step more easily. Piecing together the principles of physics that are at play. This is something that noone can give a child. It is something the child desperately wants. And all the big person has to do is this: leave them to it.

That's the phrase I've been casting about for. What I keep hoping against hope to find, and being dismayed over and over again when I don't: adults who respect what little kids are up to, and are willing -- are bold enough -- to leave them to it.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Second birthday

This post still needs links and pics. The original Blogware post

2nd birthday Photo album


View as slideshow
View as photo album

Ulysses turned two today. He doesn't know about birthdays -- not as far as we know -- but he has been carrying around a tiny little board book called "The Birthday" for several days. One of his favorite pictures is a closeup of the birthday cake.

U napped (conveniently and miraculously) while Don's mother decked out the dining nook in all the birthday trimmings we bought at the party store yesterday. Ulysses woke up in a good mood and tottered to the decorated room. He spied the balloons hanging from the overhead lamp, the colorful tablecloth, the cake. He gradually saw that the whole area was done up special, and as his awareness of it grew, his eyes began to shine, his face to light up with the marvel of it.

Then Don and Amma and I told him, "Happy birthday! This is for you! Happy birthday, Ulysses!" He looked at us and looked around at the decor and at the cake glowing with little flames. His face was radiant. My heart nearly burst to see him so happy. I understood then what drives parents to get things for their children, to buy presents and take them to Disneyworld: it was to see this look. This look of innocent, un-selfreflective, unfiltered, un-mediated rapture. Untempered joy. Naive in the strict sense. A gaze with no irony, no expectation. A pure present-moment experience. Satori without the threat of boredom.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Upset

This post still needs pics. The original Blogware post

Don's mother -- U's "Amma" (the Hungarian term for Gran) -- suggested that we take pictures of Ulysses while he's upset, not just when he's happy. So that we remember. This was the first opportunity after the suggestion. Denied a fourth bowl of whipped cream, Ulysses tugs helplessly at the refrigerator door.

Black marks on his face are washable marker from earlier.

The Star Wars undies are on over his diapers, encouragement to potty train. And because I wanted to see them on him. Amma bought him a bunch of big boy undies from Farm and Fleet today while we were riding around town.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Go Greyhound

Today Don's mother arrived from Georgia on the 10 p.m. Greyhound. Well, it was supposed to be the 8:45 Greyhound, but they had to change out the bus in Chicago. For hours before that, lights flashed and warning beepers had squawked as the first bus rolled along the highway. But when the beepers fell silent, the driver decided there was no need to call for service.

Fortunately, if not especially efficiently, the driver decided in Chicago to ask for a new bus in Chicago after all. "I feel stupid enough broken down on the highway in the summer," she told the passengers (who had asked her earlier to have the bus checked out) "I'll feel really stupid broken down on the highway at night in the middle of winter."

Yeah -- the driver feeling stupid was just the thing on everyone's minds, I'm sure.

Kielbasa

This post still needs pics to match the original Blogware post

I don't how long I've been wanting to make sausage. Here it is! I'm doin' it! Homemade kielbasa! Loaded with paprika and spicy goodness. Delicious roasted in a cast iron skillet or boiled in a big pot with a head of cabbage and a load of potatoes and carrots.

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Can't go wrong with monkeys

"We'll have storytelling, then we'll watch a movie, and then we'll do a craft," said the woman who was leading the program. She had short gray hair and wore slacks and a long, lightweight jacket that swung down to mid-thigh. I hoped desperately that she would turn out to be cool.

U and I were at preschool story time at the Lakeview branch of the public library, in our neighborhood. It began at 7 p.m., so I scooped him up when I came home from work, pulled some clothes on him, and we went on our way.

The program was held in the magazine reading room, a pleasant carpeted space with cozy leather(ette?) armchairs and a fireplace.

"We'll start with our names. What's your name?" she said, addressing the child farthest to her left.

"Jake," he said.

"What letter does that begin with?"

"J," he answered.

"That's right!" she said. She wrote a big "J" on her chalkboard and she launched briskly into a song that clearly was meant to be adapted, verse by verse, for each little audience member: "J for Jake, my name is Jake, my name is Jake, what's your name?" or similar lines, the idea being that the next kid over says, "Chloe," or whatever, and the storytelling lady says, "What letter does that begin with?"

Midway across the room, a boy of perhaps three, surely not much more than four, kneeled on the floor in front of the chairs where his parents sat. "Ike!" he said, happy that his turn had finally arrived.

"What letter does that begin with?" asked the storyteller.

His little body shot up in its kneeling position, so vigorously that his knees hardly were able to anchor him to the carpet. "K!" he announced. He was eager for this moment.

"'K,'" repeated the woman, slowly. Dubiously. She didn't write it on her chalkboard. "Well, it does have a K in it." She tilted her head to one side. "But does it begin with a K?" She waited for an answer.

The boy looked like he wanted to respond, but no longer knew what to say. Obviously the answer the grown-up wanted was, “No."

"What letter does it begin with?" she persisted. Ike sank back on his heels, without a sound.

"How about I? Does it begin with an I?"

He mumbled assent.

"All right!" said the storyteller, with lavish approval. "I!" She wrote an I on her chalkboard and continued the song. I saw Ike looking out into the center of the room, while the other children turned their gaze to the next child.

I was confused, and angry. What was the big deal? Why did she have to make that kid wrong? In public? In a room full of strangers? Why was it so important to teach the kid about how spelling works -- like he's not going to learn how to spell his own first name, for pete's sake -- that is the first thing a kid learns anyway -- at the expense of his pride and enthusiasm?

Why not sing "K for Ike"? It seems to me that K is the most distinctive sound in "Ike," even if it isn't the first letter. The song didn't say, by the way, "The first letter of my name is __." It just said "C for Cassady," or whatever. Why can't K be for Ike, for a few seconds? How about, "Ike! That has a great big K right in the middle of it!"

She went on to read us some stories from picture-laden books, stories featuring monkeys. By the middle of the second story, the children weren't paying attention much. It was clear to me that the plot was far too complex for them to grasp, and the pictures were not all that engaging. The book was small and fairly far away, too. "Are you listening to the story?" she asked, a little sternly, when the sound of children shifting positions and talking took over. Her admonition didn't make any difference to what was happening in the room. She pressed on through to the end of the book.

Next came an animation based on the picture book, "Goodnight, Gorilla." Lovely pictures, a haunting jazz soundtrack that riffed on Brahms' Lullaby.

Then the lights came back up and it was craft time.

Tables were prepped with craft sets for each tyke. Each place was set with a coloring sheet with an illustration of a monkey, small, colorful feathers, coin-sized leatherette ovals, stars, circles and other shapes. Plastic soup bowls, each containing several glue sticks, were placed in the center of each table.

The idea, we were told, was to make a hat for the monkey out of the leatherette shapes, then decorate it with the feathers.

The parents jumped in with enthusiasm. At my table, a man and woman guided a three(?)-year-old’s hands so that in no time his monkey sported an artful befeathered, multi-leatherette-shape beret.

The boy was delighted with the feathers. “Fe-fah!” he said.

“This is glue,” said the mother, working the glue stick to fix another feather on the monkey’s hat. “Can you say ‘glue’?”

“Fe-fah.” said the boy, passing a feather between his fingers.

“Glue,” she insisted, waving the glue stick toward him. "Glue."

Meantime, Ulysses scraped at the tip of the glue stick with a fingernail. A blob of purple glue stuck to it. He shook his finger, then rubbed it against the paper. He explored the blob’s texture with his finger. I stuck a feather into it to demonstrate that it would stick to the paper. But he was already playing with his leatherettes, pouring them from one palm to the other. He saw the leatherettes at the empty place settings at our table, and went round to collect those, as well. He took a bunch of feathers and placed them on the concave seat of his molded plastic chair. He examined them with his eyes and fingers, then went back to examining the leatherettes.

I marvelled at what I saw in the room: a lot of adults working very hard to make a group activity happen against considerable odds. The children were clearly – to me – continuously and spontaneously becoming immersed in their own deep worlds of experience and exploration. But their grown-ups consistently, automatically, pulled them out. They were committed, it seemed, to compelling the children to attend only to a specific set of pre-selected, narrowly defined, details and procedures.

What kind of learning was supposed to be going on?: How to use a glue stick? How to follow instructions? How to complete someone else’s pre-prepped creative vision? How to pick up an object and fasten it where it was supposed to go? Or maybe it was the very concept of “supposed to” that was being taught.

As far as I could tell, U was the only kid learning anything about leatherettes, shapes, colors and feathers. Or at least the only kid not being so strictly channeled.

By now the craft time was over. Families were leaving, and the activity leader was giving each child a box of conversation hearts -- Valentine's Day was near -- on his or her way out the door.

I heard a man say to his child, “Look, Michael! You get candy for doing the project!”

U and I lingered longest. He continued to play with the shapes and feathers, and I gathered up materials and straightened up, as the room emptied. The woman asked if I wanted some candies for him. I thanked her, but said that since he hadn’t noticed them, we might as well not point them out. I asked if we might keep a few leatherette shapes. She hesitated, then said, “Sure, why not?”

The hesitation was interesting, I thought, for a couple of reasons. First, we had already declined the candy. Hospitality would seem to demand that a host would be glad to have discovered an alternate gift.

Second, suppose we had glued those same leatherette shapes to our coloring sheet. I wouldn't even have thought to ask about taking them with us. All the other kids and parents had taken theirs along. I thought of Locke's theory of the origin of property rights. You mix your labor with a natural resource that belongs to noone -- for instance, you chop and saw a log and make a trunk from it -- and it thereby becomes your property. Ulysses hadn't made the monkey hat with his leatherettes. Not only that, his parent hadn't done her share, either. Hadn't kept her child in his seat while she hovered and got the monkey cap made, one way or another. We didn't "do the project."

Perhaps offering the candy was an attempt at a good deed on the part of the storyteller -- a charitable gesture. But when I asked for the craft supplies -- without putting any work into them -- I had gone too far. Plus, unlike the candies, the shapes hadn't been offered; I had cast myself as a supplicant.

I heard some folks thank her for the session, saying that the theme was a good one.

She laughed. “You can’t go wrong with monkeys!”