Month: September 2015

Holy Papal Visit, Batman–Gotham’s a Mess!

Look up, look down, but whatever you do, don't make eye contact.

Look up, look down, but whatever you do, don’t make eye contact.

In case you’re an American who doesn’t know because you’re oh…dead and buried in a hidden cave, Pope Francis is in town.  Now, I like this pope, I like the things he says, I like the things he does even more, and I think he’ll make great strides worldwide with his emphasis on humanity, compassion, and service.  I’m happy for those who are thrilled for the opportunity to see him and hear him speak.

But for the love of all, could you learn how to train before you walk into the subway?  The stations and the train lines are all packed, overflowing with papal tourists and delays.  This morning I think I saw every  outer borough character I’ve ever written.

On the Shuttle:

“Mary, there’s a seat, go sit down.”

Mary clamps her lips together and shakes her head so hard her pin curls are quivering.

“You don’t like that seat? I’ll sit instead of you.”

“I don’t want any seat, Timothy, not just that seat.”

Timothy turns to the man in the seat next to him. “I only ride the train once every ten years or so, what about you?”

Man next to him lifts one side of his headphones, “Every day.”

“You must have a lot of extra time on your hands.  What does it take you, hours to do your hair like that every day?”

Man touches his dreadlocks, looks across at me (guess I’ve got the stamp of a regular subway rider tattooed on my face), and laughs. “I do it while I’m on the trains.”

***

On the platform:

“Steven!!  Get away from the edge, you’re going to fall in!”

***

“Oh my GAWD, is that a rat?”

***

“Is it always so hot in here?”

***

On the 2:

Group of senior women in their very best rhinestone studded Juicy Couture, talking at a young man in workout gear. “I’m tellin ya, they’ve got the best pizza on 18th Avenue, you’ve gotta go to Brooklyn.”

“Uh, ok, thanks.”

“Whaddya telling him that for, Rosemary? Don’t listen to her, honey, you’ve gotta go for the clams at Campagnoli’s.”

Pained nod from the young man.

All four lean in to him before they get off the train. “With spaghetti!”

***

There’re two things regular NYC subway riders get every day, and one of those is religion.  Jehovah’s Witnesses seem to be the most organized, tables set up and staffed at many stations, 3 in Grand Central, politely waiting for those who appear interested. Many different Christian denominations can be found with signs and pamphlets.  Every so often, outside the stations there’ll be a group of Orthodox Jewish men, offering…baptisms? conversions? in trailers.  Last week there was a group of off-key Hare Krishnas singing and soliciting donations, bright marigold robes practically glowing in the tunnels.  Then of course there are those there to alert us to Armageddon.

What exactly is a whoremonger, anyway?

What exactly is a whoremonger, anyway?

The other thing you get in the subways daily? Music.  Often great music.  I’ll admit, I’m not into the guys who’ve made instruments out of saws and violin bows, but they have their followers.  And it would be fine if the trumpets would hold off until, say, 10am.  But yeah, music is the perk of a sizable commute on and around the trains.

I love when these guys pop in.

I love when these guys pop in.

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Yes indeed, that's the back of a one-man-band.  An optimistic one, with a 5-gallon Home Depot bucket for a tip jar.

Yes indeed, that’s the back of a one-man-band. An optimistic one, with a 5-gallon Home Depot bucket for a tip jar.

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I know, I know, for most visiting today it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, an honor.  Couldn’t they have scheduled this for one of the two days off the public schools had this week?

Happy Friday, Fringelings.

 

Testing, Testing, 1,2, Oh, ‘Murica

Surely you’ve read about it, or at least heard about Ahmed Mohamed, the 14 yo boy arrested at school in Texas for bringing in a clock.  Just in case being a new high school freshman isn’t terrifying enough.  I’m not sure I can come up with any new or brilliant commentary on this, but I couldn’t bring myself to let it pass without mention.  The school to prison pipeline grows ever shorter, while the concept of American public schools being about anything other than testing and warehousing grows more fantastical.

When we moved into this apartment, I dumped or donated most of the no longer used toys and build-your-own kits that clogged the shelves.  But I looked into the boys’ closet this morning, and found this:

Contraband?

Contraband?

And now you know the truth, Mrs Fringe and Husband are subversive enough to have encouraged our kiddos to use their imaginations, and *gasp* learn outside the classroom.  I would say I’m going to send the pinhole camera kit to Ahmed Mohamed, but since he built his clock using his brain, imagination, and spare parts, I’m guessing he’s advanced well beyond this type of thing.

I’ve seen many comments to the effect of “oh, Texas.”  But it isn’t “just” Texas, this type of lunacy, this profiling, this purposeful stifling of children’s minds is everywhere.  Test scores test scores, who needs learning? Or creativity? Or ingenuity?  We do.  Who needs to question school rules, what’s being taught and valued in our schools? We do.  Who needs to speak up and say racism and fear has overtaken common sense? We do. The teachers in Ahmed Mohamed’s school failed him.  The first teacher he showed his clock to who told him to hide it, and the second teacher who reported him to the principal.  The principal who called the police. The police officers who arrested him, fingerprinted him, questioned him without his parents or attorney present, stated that he was passive aggressive because all he would say was that it was a clock, they failed him. Not just him, but every kid who attends anything other than the “elite” schools where science and creativity are encouraged.  Schools with precious few seats where you either have to test in, win a lottery, live in the right zip code, or pay tens of thousands of dollars per year.

We send our children to school with the assumption and reassurances that the adults in charge will do all they can to keep our children safe.  Safe, first and foremost.  Before academics, before test scores, before athletics. This boy wasn’t kept safe, he was terrorized.  My heart aches for his parents, trying to imagine what his mother must have thought and felt when she first heard.  Anyone else remember being taught that old trick about principal/principle? The principal is a pal. Not to a kid who’s brown. Or poor.  Or smart.  Or questioning.

I’m guessing most of us have been faced with at least one moment in our lives where we made a decision based on fear.  Those moments don’t generally result in rational thought and educated decisions. But yesterday’s incident was based on pure, willful ignorance and prejudice. It isn’t an honest debate about the advantages/disadvantages of high stakes testing,  if it’s worth having our schools look and act like prisons complete with lockdowns, metal detectors, and bars on all the windows, or even whether or not girls should be allowed to wear belly shirts in school.  If you’re thinking Mrs Fringe doesn’t sound impartial and unbiased, you’re absolutely right–because Mrs Fringe is a blog, for my blatherings, not a fact-checked news source.  If only we were teaching our kids to tell the difference.  But I suppose that would also be suspect; mustn’t question what’s on the screen in front of you–unless of course you disagree, and even then, don’t question, just attack, facts be damned.

I read something yesterday, a comment on a Facebook thread that referred to his arrest and suspension as science-shaming.  WTF?  This doesn’t need a pretty and politically correct label, it needs to be called what it is.  Bullshit.

This morning everyone is gleefully celebrating the support shown through the #IStandWithAhmed hashtag on Twitter.  President Obama invited him to the White House, he’s being celebrated and receiving invitations from the techiest of the big tech folks.  That is wonderful for him and his family, and honestly, I hope they win a huge judgement in a lawsuit.  But I can’t quite celebrate, because this shouldn’t have happened, and no matter what opportunities come his way, I imagine being criminalized for making a clock will shape every decision he makes from now on.  Him, and every other young person who saw this news.

Mama, Didn’t Mean to Make ya Cry

Empty nest or empty bed?

Empty nest or empty bed?

I think it’s just an empty bed, because the nest surrounding it is filled with the laundry that gets washed but doesn’t go in the dryer, so there’s a forest of detergent-scented shirts and undies to hack through.  And of course, I still have one child at home.

But let’s go ahead and talk about the empty nest thing.  The other day on Facebook, I saw a short video meant to tug at the heartstrings and tear ducts of women my age and up (all with gray or white hair, yes!!) giving individual answers to what they’d have done differently.  All said some variation of they’d have slowed down, appreciated the small moments, snuggles, hugs, bedtime delays, etc more than they did.  Ok, fair enough, and it was a nice little video, but my immediate thought was, I did all that.  I did all that, and I wish I had done a little (not a lot, but a little) less of that.

When I was a kid I swore that when I grew up, I was going to have children, keep them, let them feel how loved they were, know they came first, devote my everything to them while encouraging independence.  Check. I’m glad I’m a mom, glad I spent the time, feel somewhat confident that I’ve done and continue to do the best I can.  Mistakes made? Check. Decisions I regret? Check. But I not only adore my kiddos, I like them, like spending time with them, love hearing the laughter, and feel like the most miserable, useless human being on the face of the earth when they cry. When they were little, Husband and I practiced attachment parenting; holding them until they fell asleep–in our room–,  I breastfed for a combined total of 8000 years, and agonized over which toy, what rules, which foods, and on and on.

I thought, because I was aware and making a conscious choice to center my world around them, I wouldn’t lose myself.  To some degree, that’s been true.  I wouldn’t resent them. That’s certainly true.  I remembered to maintain my friendships and get “grown-up” time. I didn’t stop listening to the music I loved, didn’t stop reading anything other than the Scholastic Book catalogue, didn’t let my life be ruled by playdates and mommy and me classes. Still, looking back, I wish I had nudged myself and my writing just a little higher on the to-do list.

During those early years, I heard a fair amount of backlash.  “you’re pregnant again?” “you’re still nursing?”  And of course the whispers I wasn’t meant to hear but did, “those kids are never going to be independent.”  “never going to wean.” Yawn.  The same whisperers who swore my kids would never be able to fall asleep without me let alone become functioning adults, murmured again when each boy left for boarding school.  “I can’t believe she’s sending her kids away!” Yawn.  For the 492nd time, I didn’t send them away, I allowed them to go.  Not just semantics. Boarding school isn’t the best choice for every kid for many different reasons, but it was for two of mine.

So this video has stayed on my mind.  This morning I saw a link and discussion about another video.  I didn’t click the link, just read the discussion, about a commercial being aired (in Asia, maybe?) about a mom sitting alone, miserable because her nest is empty and the kid(s) hasn’t called, even though she devoted her every everything to this ingrate.  Call your muthah.  The discussion was all about how terrible it is for women to center their lives around their children, it’s their own fault, unrealistic expectations, excessive guilt trips, and a few posts about this-is-why-I-choose-not-to-have-children.  Fair enough.  There are many reasons to choose not to have children, and I believe all should be accepted.  #1, it’s nobody else’s fucking business and #2, parenting is long and hard no matter what parenting philosophy you subscribe to, with absolutely no guarantees about anything; not whether you’ll enjoy it, feel good about it, have a good relationship when all is said and done, or whether or not those kiddos will be healthy and sound enough to grow up and become independent.

The other day was my birthday, and I have to say, it was an excellent day.  I woke to flowers from Husband, Art Child made me a fantastic card, Man Child messaged me from Italy (unexpected, I figured he’d still be jet lagged and getting his legs under him), Nerd Child not only called me, but happened to be with someone I’m a big, long time fan of, and the man got on the phone and wished me a happy birthday! I stayed in my pajamas until the afternoon, got several texts and phone calls from friends, and my buddy El Fab came over for dinner.  Would I have been angry if the boys hadn’t remembered and contacted me? Given them lectures, guilt trips, and slide shows about why they should have? Nope, but it sure was beautiful that each remembered me.

It seems natural, logical to me that at the other end of this parenting gig (sure, you’re a parent forever, but there is usually a point where the kiddo develops their own life, be it from the basement apartment, across state lines, or on another continent) and there’s a period of, dare I say it? Wondering what’s next.  Maybe even feeling a bit of emptiness.  When someone spends years building a career and then stops working,  it’s the subject of good natured teasing, maybe even compassion, “(s)he doesn’t know what to do with himself.”  I don’t hear a whole lot of “I told her not to make so much damned money…be such a dedicated worker…if he had put more into it, he wouldn’t be miserable now…eventually she had to retire!”  I definitely haven’t seen any videos floating around chastising retirees.

We are all individuals, same as our children are. I know parents with adult children who speak to their children every single day, see them twice a week, and live within spitting distance of each other, can’t conceive of going a month without seeing each other.  They’re living their lives, and happy.  I know parents with adult children who speak once a week, see each other once every month or two, live a couple of hours away from each other, living their lives, and happy. Some live in different countries, speak when they can, and are thrilled if they see each other every year or two. Others live around the corner from each other, or thousands of miles away, and don’t speak at all, too many years of anger and resentment.  And then there are some who have experienced the terrible, unimaginable heartbreak of losing a child to illness, drugs, or violent crime.  Yes, we can (do?) all look back and see moments where we wish we had made different choices.  For ourselves, for our families.  I sure as hell can’t look back at someone else’s life from my living room and my perspective and tell them what they should have done.  Does this make me a bad feminist as well as a bad mama?

After all these years of mama-ing, hindsight leads me to this one question:  When are we going to stop with the judgmental bullshit?  Call me crazy, but I don’t think there’s one right way to parent, one right way to live, one right way to be independent.

Chugga Chugga Chugging Along

Blur of colors, faces, and heat inside the train.

Blur of colors, faces, and heat inside the train.

No more denying, this year has begun.  I know, for most the year begins in January, but for me, as a parent and summer worshiper, the year begins in September along with the public school year in New York.  Nerd Child went back to school first, Art Child began last week, and Man Child left for Italy two days ago.

Art Child has begun high school.  I think the fact alone confirms I’m in my dotage, but in case it’s questionable, I’ll assure you I feel it. By the end of last week–three days of school–I had taken approximately 43,000 trains and climbed 9 billion subway steps bringing her to and from.  By Friday, she and I both fell asleep on the couch before dinner, and she was already trying to fight off some kind of virus/cold.

Surely I'm trapped inside this cement mixer.

Surely I’m trapped inside this cement mixer.

Ahh, the stresses of mamahood.  Man Child will be away for six months.  Very exciting for him, and quite strange for me.  Before he left, I guess he was feeling a bit nostalgic, because he was talking about and requesting the dishes that were staples when he was younger.  I made a huge batch of basic tomato sauce, we had spaghetti one night, baked ziti another, he made a simple (and delicious) rice and beans with roasted chicken, and he and Mother-In-Law baked an early birthday present of Dominican Cake for me–guayaba filling, of course.  The apartment felt very quiet once he left; he’s a young man with great energy, both of my boys laugh easy and often, and by yesterday morning I was already missing the seemingly constant simmer of something on the stove.  I still had a container of sauce left, was feeling a little nostalgic myself–not to mention envious of the foods and flavors Man Child will certainly be experiencing, so Art Child and I went to the store to purchase an eggplant.

Between time constraints, dietary restrictions, generally fewer people at the table, and a shrinking capacity for standing, most of what I cook these days is a healthier and quicker variation of the dishes I used to prepare. But what the hell, one old-school dinner to kick off the start of the new school year.  I purged the eggplant.  Purging is slicing, salting, and weighing down the slices to draw the bitterness out–then rinse, pat, and begin your dish.

Eggplant Parmigiana

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I season the flour with a little garlic powder (granulated, not the stuff that gives clouds of garlic dust) and fresh ground black pepper.  Some people add their seasonings to the egg, but I find it adheres better to whatever you’re coating when in the flour, instead of sinking to the bottom of the bowl.

After a light flouring, a quick dip in the egg/water mix.

After a light flouring, a quick dip in the egg/water mix.

Then into a panko/parmigiana mix.

Then into a panko/parmigiana mix.

Use your hands and get your fingers dirty.  Panko crumbs make for a lighter, crisper coating than regular breadcrumbs, but need a little help to make sure you get a nice mix on each slice, not just the grated cheese.

Fry (yes, I said it, fry) in olive oil.  Not a super light extra virgin, something heavier that will hold up.

Fry (yes, I said it, fry) in olive oil. Not a super light extra virgin, something heavier that will hold up.

I like to get them a nice gold color, about 2 minutes on each side.  Yes, my stove is dirty, I have no shame. Probably what tipped the scales to have me make this–it needed to be cleaned anyway.

I had one zucchini in the fridge, so I dredged it and added it to the eggplant.

I had one zucchini in the fridge, so I dredged it and added it to the eggplant.

As they finish, layer the slices on a paper towel lined and layered plate to absorb excess grease. Now try not to eat all the eggplant before you make the casserole.

A little sauce on the bottom of your casserole/baking dish.

A little sauce on the bottom of your casserole/baking dish.

Good quality cheese is everything, and fresh mozzarella is so much better than the dry, yellow, pre-packaged stuff.

Good quality cheese is everything, and fresh mozzarella is so much better than the dry pre-packaged stuff.

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Start layering.  Eggplant, mozzarella, sauce, and then a little fresh grated parmigiana or romano.  I prefer romano for this step.

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Repeat the layers two or three times, depending on the depth of your dish.  There should be enough sauce so every bite has some, but too much will leave the whole thing kind of gloppy and you won’t taste the eggplant at the end.

Bake.  Not for too long, everything is pretty much cooked already.  350 or 375° for twenty minutes covered with foil, then uncover and bake another 10 minutes.  Done.

Hungry?

Hungry?

Washing the Dust Off

The purpose of art is washing the daily dust off of our souls~Pablo Picasso

After the fiasco of our adventures on Friday I was more than ready for a good day.  So, on Sunday afternoon, Husband’s cousin, Miss Sweet Heart, met Man Child, Art Child and I at our apartment and we headed downtown to the Washington Square Outdoor Art Exhibit. Yes, Art Child and I went a few months ago (the show is put on twice a year, Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend) but it’s well worth revisiting. Some of the artists are the same (new work and old) and others were new to us.

Man Child and Miss Sweet Heart haven’t seen each other in a couple of years, so that alone made the day beautiful.  Add in a day trip, trains that ran on time, art that is exciting and inspiring, generous artists, and it was damn near perfect.  One of the things that made it so special was that several of the artists we chatted with last time remembered Art Child.  Made her day, and mine.  I’m continually impressed by how many in the art community are willing to take and make time for a young artist, offer ideas and encouragement.

Remember the artist with the amazing tree-woman sculpture last time?  Anthony Santella was back with new work.  I didn’t think anything could be more perfect than the last bust I posted photos of, but I was mistaken. Last time we saw him at the WSAOE, he gifted Art Child with a nail-studded heart he had carved, it holds a place of honor on her desk.  Turns out he blogged about meeting her.  Hmm, for some reason the link doesn’t take you directly to the post.  From the about page, click on his blog, and then May 2015 in his archives, Sunday, May 24th, Day #144 of #MakeArt365.  (Spend time checking out his site, well worth it.)  Me, blabberfingers extraordinaire, can’t find the words for how beautiful it is to see my girl in this setting, with adult artists taking her and her work seriously, no one caring (in a good way) about academics, neurological status, sluggish reflexes, size, blah, blah, blah.

Isn't she wonderful?

Isn’t she wonderful?

 

Out of budget for us, but oh how I wish.

Out of budget for us, but oh how I wish.

Looking at the sculpture above got my mind racing, how could I write her into Wanna-Bees, change a character? add a new one?  I was about to ask Mr. Santella if he would mind if I “wrote her,” but then I didn’t.  I’m just not ready to write.

Besides the wood sculptures, he has paintings and smaller sculptures made from 3-D printing.  Art Child purchased one of his paintings from a group he had tucked away, older works.  Funny enough, she was drawn to those he made when not much older than she, and still in high school.  I bought a little 3D printed woman, maybe 2 1/2 inches with the base.  She’s looking down at me from the shelf over my desk now.

The lighting is too harsh in this photo, but it highlights the details.

The lighting is too harsh in this photo, but it highlights the details.

Tomorrow the craziness of a new school year for the girl will begin.  Thank you for letting us wash the dust off, and start fresh.

Sunrise from the terrace this morning.

Sunrise from the terrace this morning.

First Time for Everything

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Labor Day weekend, the last hoo-rah of summer.  I really, really wanted to squeeze in one more beach day, and not over the three day weekend, because the sand is impossibly crowded on these days. Greedy, right?  I have enjoyed quite a few beach days this summer, all of them lovely, was at the NJ beach for an afternoon earlier in the week and of course, an entire week of vacationing on the beach down south.  But, one more on “my” beach in Brooklyn sounded irresistible, especially because Man Child is here.  He hasn’t been able to enjoy many beach days over the last few years, and I’m enjoying spending some days with him before he flies off overseas.

Of course I noticed the clouds as Art Child, Man Child and I walked to the subway, but there was no hint of rain, nothing that seemed threatening, we had actually gotten out of the apartment by 10am (we’d get good spots near the water!) and when you’re lying on the sand a few clouds can offer a bit of respite from the sun.  And of course it was windy when we got off the train, but the weather is always a bit different when you’re actually on the beach.  Besides, I kind of like those days, where it’s just me and the other diehards.

Oh.My.God.  It was a fucking sandstorm on the beaches of south Brooklyn.  First, we teamed up and wrestled the wind to get our towels down. We laid them close together, so we could pool bags and flip-flops to keep them anchored.  Man Child’s went first, and by the time we secured all four corners, the towel was half covered in sand.  He didn’t even try to lie down, went into the water instead. Art Child and I threw ourselves down on our respective towels as soon as we got them down, in an attempt to keep them from flying away, and trying to block the sand from our eyes. I grew up on that beach, and I can honestly say I have never experienced this amount of sand pelting everything and everyone outside of a November pre-rainstorm.

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At first it was kind of funny.  Go to the beach, she said, it’ll be fun, she said.  Man Child lasted about three minutes in the water, it was bizarrely cold for August. Give it a few minutes, surely it will blow over.  Art Child was huddled on her towel, shirt completely wrapped around her head, while Man Child and I laughed, chewed sand, spit sand, and waited.  Inside of 30 minutes, there wasn’t a centimeter on any of us that hadn’t been exfoliated, including my throat and eyeballs.  If you’ve never experienced it, crunchy contact lenses aren’t a rejuvenating sensation. Art Child was now shivering, so we decided it just didn’t make sense to stay, made a futile attempt to shake the sand off our stuff,  and packed up. Ten minutes waiting for the train, another hour and twenty minutes home.

We walk into our building, laugh with the security guard and super that it’s a good thing they didn’t come with us, go upstairs, and…can’t get inside.  For the first time in my entire life, I had locked myself out of my apartment.  If you’ve ever lived alone, you’re cautious about that kind of thing. I moved out of my parent’s house when I was 18? 19?, lived alone for years, and in those years, often worked a swing shift.  You cannot ring the super or landlady’s bell at 2am and ask for them to let you in.  I guess those habits get ingrained, so in all these years, I’ve never locked myself out.  I also gave up on making sure anyone else had a copy of my keys.  Apparently when we switched apartments last year, we didn’t give the super the new keys either. We live in a large, post-war but not new building.  This means there’s no jimmying the lock with a credit card, bobby pin, or other MacGyveresque maneuver to break in.  No external fire escapes on these institutional-style buildings to be climbed.  Sure we’ve got a terrace, but it’s 16 floors up, the terraces don’t begin until the fourth floor, and shockingly enough, I am not Spiderman.  Hell, even if there was a way to climb up, it’s rare that I can get the windows open from the inside.  From the outside? Hah!

Husband had gone to work.  In New Jersey.  Friday, of Labor day weekend.  No way he could run back home to let us in, and ludicrous to think of taking the bus to NJ and back in sand-filled bathing suits so we could pick up the keys. It would have taken 6-7 hours roundtrip in holiday traffic.  He was going to be home in another 8 hours anyway.  So we went to Mother-In-Law’s.  Thankfully she was home and a good sport about the whole thing, though I suspect she was done with us by about the 6th hour. Husband was a mere hour and a half late getting back into the city, and we were home by midnight.

Speaking of midnight, the moon put on quite a show over this past week, and I was able to get a few good shots.  If anyone knows why it was so red/orange, I’d love to know, but in any case it was beautiful.

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