Tuesday, May 29, 2007

More Blogging

I’ve joined a group of mothers who blog over at Chicago Moms Blog, and my posts are here. I will put most of my parenting comments over there, but I’ll cross post here occasionally, too.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Chicago Beaches

It’s officially beach season in Chicago (which means lifeguards on duty, daily testing for e. coli levels in Lake Michigan, and open bathrooms).

In years past I recall checking a website for beach closings, but I can’t find it on the City of Chicago website or the Chicago Park District website. I did find, however, the number for the Beach Hotline: 312-74-BEACH. I called. The message wasn't updated for today, but yesterday all beaches were safe for swimming.

I read a couple of news stories about BigBelly solar powered trash compactors, corn oil on sea gull eggs, and an improved test for e. coli concentrations that gives results in 4-6 hours instead of 24.

I’ll be curious to see if this new arsenal helps our beaches stay healthy this season.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The DIA Today

Since our family was visiting Michigan this weekend, I braced myself at breakfast for reading the Detroit Free Press. I grew up reading this Motor City paper, and I expected to see most of its pages devoted to the Cerberus purchase of Daimler Chrysler. I was surprised to see a huge article about the massive makeover of the Detroit Institute of Arts in a last ditch effort to rescue it from debilitating financial problems.

According to the article, “The DIA, which once received $16 million a year in state funding, now gets just more than $1 million and hasn’t received anything this year because of a moratorium on arts grants. The museum has raised more than $300 million since 1997 in capital funds, but tens of millions of dollars—that otherwise could have generated income as part of the endowment—were needed to plug holes in the annual budget.” (The holes in the budget run between $12 million and $14 million per year, according to the article.)

On the drive home from Michigan, I read an article in The New York Times, mentioning the bestselling Dangerous Book for Boys and tying it to the concern over a decline in traditional play by today’s kids. We’ve heard all this before, ad nauseum. Of course kids need idle time—time to let their imagination wander and time with their families.

This article doesn’t make me feel guilty, because my children are consummate imaginative players. And when we go to Michigan, they disappear for hours with their cousins, inventing new games or climbing trees or just hanging out. However, in the eleven years that my children have been visiting the Detroit area, we have never visited the DIA. Even though we are museum supporters. Even though we are frequent visitors and members of Chicago’s museums.

There’s no excuse for never having taken our daughters to the DIA. Except laziness. And I suspect that’s why attendance is low at the DIA and the museum finds itself in such a precarious situation. Families are just too busy, and going to the museum is just another trip to make.

But I can vividly remember my first visit to the DIA and the impact it had on me. As a young girl, I went with my friend’s family, and on that lovely visit I saw the work of Diego Rivera for the first time—his huge fresco murals Detroit Industry rocked my world. It makes me sick that I haven’t brought my daughters to see this stunning room (zoom in for maximum effect).

So, it is the article about the DIA that makes me feel guilty. Wouldn’t it be nice, parents, if all we have to do to raise our parenting game is unplug the technology and kick the kids outside?

That’s too easy, I’m afraid. Please, get out there and take the kids to the museums. Have them invite a friend to come along. Field trips and vacations aren’t enough exposure. Kids need to go to their local museums, explore them, and get to know the treasures they house. That takes time and effort, and it’s not easy.

It's not just about our children. It's about our culture.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The 27

This is unacceptable.

And now I have to figure out what I can do about it.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Body Image

Back in my 20s, I was very conscious of being one of the youngest staff members at my place of employment. I didn’t feel bad or insecure about that, I just noticed my age made me different from everybody else in one obvious way. At “coffee,” our editorial group gathered to talk industry news or pop culture for 20 minutes or so most mornings. I thoroughly enjoyed my co-workers' personalities and insights and collective knowledge. But I couldn’t figure out why everyone was so obsessed with their bodies. Bunions, bad backs, migraines, fatigue, exhaustion, and on and on and on (“sheez,” I thought. “What’s wrong with these people?”)

What was wrong with these people was that they were in their 40s. It only took me 20 years to figure that out, and now that I have, I hear similar complaints coming from the mouths of my peers and my siblings (and sometimes myself) whenever we gather.

So it tickles me when I encounter people in their 60s and 70s providing me new information about health and fitness. Today my 70-plus friend was describing a “Pump & Run” 5K event that her 61-year-old brother won this weekend in Wisconsin. I've never heard the term before today, but this is an event in which participants bench press an amount of weight based on their own body weight, and then they run a 5K. My friend had no idea how much weight participants were pressing, just that her brother completed 79 repetitions. And that he came in first out of more than 100 racers.

Now that’s what I want to hear! I’m “running” my first 5K next month. But I hope in another 20 years or so, my generation will be leading the way in strong, healthy living.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

What's So Controversial about Chocolate?

I thought I’d learn more about that catchy “Don’t Mess With Our Chocolate” campaign.

Mostly because I adore chocolate. As a matter of fact, I’m eating a small bag of Raisinets as I write, and sure enough, even on this unremarkable candy, cocoa butter and milk are still on the ingredient list. But I’m also curious because, as a parent, I know a lot about the manufacture of chocolate. (All those field trips and educational television shows have left their mark on me!) Back in 2002, for example, our family visited the Field Museum to see its exhibition on chocolate, which takes a visitor through all the steps in the process. This past February we hit the Chocolate Fest at Garfield Park. (This is the event where you learn about making chocolate while you weave slowly through the conservatory on your way to free chocolate samples.)

So I started surfing the Net, and here’s what I found out. I need Michael Pollan to translate for me. This is a classic game of Big Industry v. Big Government, and I don't see how consumers can make any sense of it at all. Maybe this is about trans fats. Or new technologies. Or protecting the public.

My overwhelming sense, though, is it's not the latter.

I’d be curious to know what you think.

So give it a go. Start anywhere, and make sure to check out the docket page!

FAQs from the CMA (representing 90% of America’s chocolate manufacturers and including World’s Finest Chocolate, Inc. and The Blommer Chocolate Co. here in Chicago).

Also from the CMA website, this letter to its membership.

Grocery Manufacturers Association/Food Products Association website (original petition filer).

And, the FDA docket of legal documents surrounding the issue.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Times They Are a Changin'

Last night I watched an interview with chef Rick Bayless, in connection with Monday’s big news that his Frontera Grill won the James Beard Award for Best Restaurant in the United States. I’ve always been a fan of Bayless, and in this interview I learned that his Frontera Farmer Foundation awards capital development grants to small sustainable farms serving the Chicago area. Cool. Another reason to like him.

I’ve been following his career for years. In the early ‘90s, I met a friend of Rick Bayless’ who took me to his (then) new restaurant Topolobampo. In the late ‘90s, I volunteered for a few years at an organic garden. The person who ran it went on to become, incredibly, Rick Bayless’ personal gardener. I once saw her on his PBS television show, Mexico—One Plate at a Time. Many an evening our family sat drooling over his recipes featured on what was, at the time, our daughters’ favorite show.

“Look girls, you can see her in the background,” I shouted to my girls, pointing out my friend.

“I can’t believe she goes to Rick Bayless’ dinner parties,” I said to my husband, pointing out my jealousy.

A couple of years ago I wrote an essay for Chicago Parent, in which I talked about feeding my children. In it, I mentioned the significance of Rick Bayless to my daughters developing taste buds. Yet despite all these connections, I’ve never met the man.

But my daughters have.

Two years ago, after seeing a performance of Slava’s Snowshow at the Chicago Theater, my sister and I and our four daughters headed over to Frontera Grill for dinner. The girls immediately recognized the famous chef, and the four cousins ran up and asked for his autograph.

Today I sit here thinking how extraordinary it is that these 11- and 12-year-olds have not only eaten in the best restaurant in the U.S., but that they know so much about the chef behind its success.

When I was their age, I was impressed that a microwave could thaw a donut in 30 seconds!

Monday, May 7, 2007

Support Your Local Theater

The touring musical version of “The Color Purple” opened in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theater on Thursday night. Oprah attended the premiere, as did Mayor Daley and Roger Ebert.

My husband and I were right there downtown on Sunday night, and we saw the fans on their way into this show that has Big Media behind it. We were headed, however, just across the street to the Allegro Hotel, to attend a benefit for the Lifeline Theatre.

The Lifeline Theatre, located in the Chicago neighborhood of Rogers Park, is a lovely, tiny theater that puts on a remarkable series of performances for children, and another series for adults. Our family has attended many of the children’s shows, all of which are adapted from well-loved children’s books. Lifeline’s version of Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type was one I’ll never forget, mostly because our daughters laughed huge, physical laughs at every single joke (but also because we were seated in the front row, just an arm’s length away from the actors). Afterwards, the actors autographed the girls’ programs with “Power to the cows!” I couldn’t envision a better theater-going experience for my young daughters.

So I was pleased to find that Alpana Singh, who recently moved to Rogers Park, decided to put her creative backing behind Lifeline. Alpana is a celebrity sommelier and television host, and I might add, a cool, young person with obvious smarts. She organized her wine contacts and writer husband to come together for a night of wine tasting, short theater and socializing. Alpana spoke simply and forcefully about wine and community, she signed her new book, and remained in attendance for the entire event. Based on ticket prices and silent auction bids, I’m guessing she helped raise more than 50K in 3 hours, a considerable amount for a theater of this size. In her remarks at the start of the evening, Alpana referred, philosophically, to life’s “unexpected gifts.”

Of course! Lifeline has always been that to me. And isn’t it wonderful how now Alpana can be considered one of Lifeline’s?

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Now What in New Orleans?

Former Chicago Public Schools chief, who went on to head Philadelphia's public schools, is apparently heading to New Orleans to take over. I find this a fascinating story, as I've mentioned before. But it doesn't give me good vibes about the future of the New Orleans public school system. I thought Vallas wanted to come back to Chicago. . . ?

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

From Inside the Medical Community

I took a walk today with a mom I know, as we waited for our daughters to finish up an after-school program. Somewhere on our third lap around the field, it dawned on me that between us we were mourning the recent losses of a sister, a brother, a mother, two grandmothers, and a friend. We were trying to come to terms with sudden illness and chronic illness and aging and senior living.

Then I came home and read Atul Gawande’s article "The Way We Age Now" in this week’s New Yorker. Here’s the online version. Gawande is an assistant professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School.

The implications of this report couldn't be more clear.

Blog revisited

One unintentional pattern that shows up in my blogging is how books and great food often point me in new directions. Books (and films and theater and all the arts) showcase ideas. And food. . . well, food provides the opportunity for people to sit around and discuss ideas. There doesn’t seem to be enough opportunities, though, for good discussion and conversation these days.

Which is why I’ve hardly missed—in more than five years—a gathering of my book club; and why our family chases down specific book titles; and why we’re rethinking our grocery-buying decisions and eating habits; and why we still don’t have cable TV or a game system, and why I keep posting snippets of actual conversations I have. I'm just trying to understand the world we're handing our children.

I believe the times we live in will continue on at a whirlwind pace.

And I also believe I will continue to place a huge value on the books and meals and conversations that keep us from getting caught up in it.