Sunday, August 30, 2009

No Apologies

for not writing more during this summer I have loved like no other. We were off having marvelous adventures or I was busy exhausting myself on the long walks that helped me lose sixteen pounds so far over the last two glorious months. Oh, I composed plenty in my head as I hit the pavement on the way to catch the view of that morning's sun on the waves from the platform over Kenilworth Beach, but the time to put it all down evaporated quickly. I'll try to compose a highlights reel soon as the girls start school.

No apologies for my latest post on Chicago Moms Blog, even though it seemed to infuriate at least one reader which reminded me of the story of Rumplestiltskin and the troll who wanted to take the woman's child for no reason until the woman found out his name which enraged him so he tore himself in two.

And no apologies needed, only congratulations to Kim Tracy Prince who was the name selected at random (read: Mia pulled one slip out of the splayed deck in my hand) to win the $25 Donor Choose gift card! Congrats to Kim and to the lucky teacher to whom she will pass on the funds! Thanks to all who entered and here's the pitch, please consider funding a project on your own - any bit helps.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fifty Years Ago, Little Rock

Enrolling my six year old at our neighborhood public school didn't go as smoothly as I would have hoped. "We've been here over an hour," said one mom in the hall. The secretary kind of rolled her eyes when, hungry and without clear instructions about where to go and what to do, I asked in a voice that was a teensy too loud, "I don't understand. Do you want me to wait outside?" When I tried again after lunch, the registration ID number I was given didn't work for the online registration so I had to call an administrator who cleared up the number confusion later that afternoon.

And the school supply list is long, expensive and specific with brands our office supply store does not carry.

You know what? All this "trouble" is nothing. Nothing.

Within all these trivial concerns and the busy paperwork needed to sign my daughter up for school, her fundamental right to a free public education will remain so assumed and self-evident as to be nearly invisible.

We should not forget it has not always been so for all American children.

Today, Wednesday, August 12, 2009 is the 50th anniversary of the reopening of the four public high schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, an incremental victory in the slow and painful fight of the civil rights movement. For the entire 1958-59 school year, the schools had remained closed by order of the governor and in direct opposition to federal law, in reaction to the previous school year, the first difficult year of integration.

The summer of 1957 nine brave and committed African American teenagers registered to attend Little Rock Central High School, newly allowed to do so by the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown vs. Board of Education that repudiated the fallacy that a separate education would be an equal one.

To actually attend school, the nine students, three young men and six women, faced horrific obstacles. Governor Orval Faubus order the Arkansas National Guard to "protect order," a pretense for their barring the students from the school. Rowdy mobs that gathered daily to jeer and ridicule the students escalated to rioting.

On Monday, September 23, 1957, after the National Guard had been ordered to step down by court decree, four black journalists were brutally beaten in front of the school. Two days later, President Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne Army Division to enforce the integration and protect the students from the mob. That morning, an Army convoy of combat-ready paratroopers accompanied the children to school where 350 armed soldiers had sealed off the area. Twenty-two federal troops surrounded the Little Rock Nine and escorted them up the front steps to the entrance of Central High.

Terrance Roberts, one of the students, remembers the day: "I was aware that something momentous was taking place that morning although years would pass before I would truly grasp the overall significance of what had happened. This was the first time since Reconstruction that federal troops had been ordered into the South to protect the rights of African Americans. On that morning, however, my primary thought was that maybe now I would not be killed for simply trying to go to school."

But even with army guards to protect them, the students' troubles were far from over. Once inside the high school, the children had to endure slaps, spitting, tripping, whispers, hostile name-calling, sabotage, bomb scares and vicious threats. Staff and faculty often responded with silence and turning away. On October 3, the Mothers League organized a walkout to protest the black students' presence. Over one hundred white students left school and gathered in an empty lot across the street where they hung an effigy of a black student, stabbed it and set it on fire.

Some white students did offer friendship and aid, inviting the new students to eat with them at lunch or offering science notes from the days they had been absent.

After a long and difficult year, Ernest Green, the only senior in the group, graduated from Little Rock Central High School on Tuesday, May 27, 1958. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was in the audience.

Over the summer break, Governor Faubus signed into law a bill allowing him to close any school in the state that was facing integration. A special election in September, 1958 had the people of Little Rock rejecting immediate integration and equal education for all by a vote of 19,470 to 7,561. Consequently, the city's four high schools were closed. The next year became known as "The Lost Year." Many city students, including three of the Little Rock Nine, moved out of state to complete their education. Some worked on correspondence courses; many white students attended private school; other young people had little to no school that year at all.

With the realization that opposition to integration was damaging business in Little Rock and with forced changes in the makeup of the school board, the stage was set for continuing the integration process and reopening the schools. Three black students returned to Central High after August 12 and three to Hall High School. However, it would take until 1972 for all Little Rock public schools to be integrated.

When we say or read the words "how far we have come" about the election of our first African American president, we should realized that this country's racial divide is not ancient history. The nine child-heroes of the battle of Little Rock still remember vividly the days when they were on the front lines against ingrained bigotry and ignorance.

Before integration we were not fully a land of freedom envisioned by the founders of this country. The democratic ideals they aspired to and promised were far from fully realized. This nation was still imperfect, and in the case of Little Rock, hideously imperfect.

Today let us appreciate our rights and feel grateful to these nine courageous American heroes who gave so much at so young an age, for us all: Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Pattillo, Gloria Ray, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas, and Carlotta Walls.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Help a Classroom This September!

The most precious piece of swag I was given at the BlogHer conference last month were two $25 gift certificates from the worthy and ingenious organization Donors Choose. I'll be able to use one of the gift cards to fund a classroom project of my choice from the hundreds listed on their website.

After browsing the site, I've decided to help a Chicago teacher in a high poverty area who is seeking a class set of Howard Zinn's A Young People's History of the United States. Zinn's groundbreaking work turns traditional history-telling on its ear and broadcasts the voices that have gone largely unheard in history textbooks. (Remember when Matt Damon told Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting "If you want to read a real history book, read The People's History of the United States. That book will knock you on your ass"?) I'm really happy that more kids will be exposed to Zinn's exciting point of view. And even more happy that my money will be matched by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has recently partnered with Donors Choose specifically for projects that will "make sure that high school students graduate ready for success and prepared to earn postsecondary degrees." In the Chicago area alone, there are 31 classroom projects where your funding will be matched by the foundation.

Vicky Phillips, Director of Education Initiatives for The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: "Our initiatives are all about making sure every student in this country is well prepared when they leave high school to enter college and to make sure every teacher and student has the support they need every time they step into a classroom. It provides immediate support for teachers for what they need on a daily basis."

As a former teacher, what really gets me jazzed up about Donors Choose is the key idea that classroom teachers are getting funding for WHAT THEY ASK FOR. Instead of a new educational fad plopping down from above, the projects that Donors Choose funds are designed by the very teachers who will implement them. These teachers know their kids; they know their kids' needs. And the Donors Choose model respects the teachers' knowledge, expertise and relationships with their students.

Donors Choose has a four star rating from Charity Navigator. Their work with the classroom teachers not only includes promotion of their projects, but work to insure the integrity of the purchase: verifying the availability of the needed resources, negotiating for discounts, examining the proposals for clarity and handling the purchasing and delivery of the resources.

Stephen Colbert, one of my pop culture heroes and a fan of the program, says, "It's such a simple, wonderful idea. It connects individual donors with individual classrooms and individual teachers and individual projects. You know exactly who you're helping and how you're helping them."

Would you like to help out a teacher and her or his kids? Check out the Donors Choose website and leave a comment here about what project YOU would like to help. I'll draw a name from all comments left by August 25. You will need to redeem the gift card by September 30.

Thanks so much!!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Where I Find Roisin Murphy

Here's "Overpowered," just in case you heard the ferocious first bars of "Ruby Blue" during Brandon and Jeannette's jewel thieves jazz routine on that dance show I can't stop talking about and you thought "What was THAT?" and looked up the name "Roisin Murphy" on Youtube and found another incredible dance routine to her music by the same choreographer and those primal beats woke up some distant longing and sent you searching on, until you actually saw the singer and realized Lady Gaga had an inspiration and Grace Jones a disciple and the world, not just the dance world, but your little corner, is so much better for it and for that you are so very grateful.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Blogher '09: It's A Small Beautiful World

Four days to call my own to write and read and learn and talk and meet other writers and dress fancy and party? For me, BlogHer 09 was a great vacation and creative shot in the arm. (Well, at least it felt like a shot in the arm - I'm not so sure if I can call it that good for my writing if it's taken me two + weeks to get it writ down.) The three keynotes were worth the price of admission for me, especially the Community Keynote where twenty-one bloggers got up and bravely read their own pieces. I'm talking brave here. At the front row round table where I sat to watch and listen, the weeping bounced from woman to woman, depending on the piece. "5" by Black Hockey Jesus, who, sadly, shut down his site a few days later, and Issa's "Uncle Marky" were two that got me in the gut.

Yes, there was some marketing overkill, bad behavior, and hurt feelings, but the fact that I found it all so much folderol doesn't mean the issues weren't deeply important to those who want to both profit from their blogging and do so with integrity. The word I had heard most often from attendees before the conference was "excited" which means to me the risk for disappointment was potentially high. My expectations, on the other hand, were super low - hand out a couple of cards, say hi to some friends, hear some intelligent talk and all such were met. The rest of the circus passed me by. I'm a D-lister and a proud amateur in the root sense of the word from the Greek, "lover" or "enthusiastic pursuer of an objective."

The lovely and talented Kim Moldofsky, was a fun and coincidently synchronized roommate and also my guide through the more complicated themes of social media and marketing that surrounded us this weekend. Kim brought me a welcome present, the Harlequin Romance "Legendary Lover" and we laughed and laughed over the first line (emphasis mine, baby, all mine) "From her crouched position in the underbrush, Tessa Jane had no trouble spotting Cord" and the graceful metaphor "her heart (fluttered) like a barnful of frightened chickens." An appropriate beginning, I think, for a weekend about writing that was also often not so much about the writing.

Drove downtown with Angela and Susan and though the rain and the traffic stretched our short drive into over an hour, the time flew with Angela's stories of her rock 'n roll camp and Susan's general hilarity and good sense.

Partied Thursday night with a whole flock of friends from the Chicago Moms Blog, including our new member, the awesome Cynthia, who agrees with me about the Olympics and lovely Tracey who gave me the biggest compliment of the weekend when she said, "You don't write enough." Met a bunch of friends for the first time In Real Life, including Sara and Marcie and made new friends from the other SV Moms Blog regions, including sweetheart Amy Ransom of Occupation: Mommy and the Philly Moms Blog and charming Ilina Ewen (a fellow NU grad!) from Dirt and Noise and the Deep South Moms Blog and the dynamic Melissa Chapman-Mushnick from the New York Moms Blog, whose upcoming gig to interview Tina Brown, a hero of mine ever since I read her brilliant The Diana Chronicles, made my mouth water.

More Chicago party girls: Alma, looking lovely in new lipstick,
funny Shannon, whose dress I was coveting, sweet Farrah, beautiful Catherine, MJ, who was hosting parties left and right on no sleep but still had time for a good talk, perennially cheery Lori, and adorable Melanie, who snorted at my story about infant scat.

It was so good later during the conference to run into Jen and other CMB moms, including Carrie and Caitlin who carried their own adorable little babies!

Other marvelous women I met:

"Jo" the writer of It Ain't Meat, Babe - met at the Geek Lab and talked pie crust. She sez Earth Balance Margarine has no trans fats. I'm trying to avoid palm oils, which it contains, but if I wanted to go fully vegan, I might try this.

Naomi Shapiro from Superdumb Supervillian has posted great pics of the unicorn cake at the Sparklehorse party and me and Kim in the limo on the way to the infamous Nikon/Carson Kressley event. Naomi was splendid that night in a beautiful lime and purple dress. Mwah! Her husband shows at Ann Nathan gallery along with my friend Christina! What a small world!

Darryle Pollack of I Never Signed Up For This and the ingenious

Renee Blodgett, founder of and

Local blogger Julie DeGraf of I Do Things So You Don't Have To read a piece at the Community Keynote!

Jennifer Almeida of Toast on the

Green LA Girl "Urban eco living by the beach"

Cinnamon Cooper creates local, cute and responsibly made purses.

Colleen Allison of freshvintage, (whose awesome site sent me to the hilarious decorating snark of had the cutest table of tag sale finds at the BlogHer swapmeet - I wanted everything. Settled on some adorable vintage coloring books for the girls and a tiny pair of wooden drunks sitting on a park bench for Randy.

I met two young women from Modcloth at one of the parties and I was so happy to tell them I recognized the company name from their ads on LOLCats. Cute vintage-inspired clothes. They sell actual vintage, too, but currently it's ALL sold out. What is up with that?

Jodi M. Schaap of JodiMichelle. Love her tag line: "I tell stories."

Michelle Hong of wifeandmommy and the DC Moms Blog.

Alana Reynolds at Momku, writes wonderful mothing haiku. And blogs with a few more words at As we're chatting in line to get our hair did, (never actually happened with my overpacked social schedule,) I discover her father worked as an animator at Randy's company way back when! It's a small, beautiful world.

Leighann Calentine of Multi-Minding Mom, formerly Soy is the New Black.

Cute Hollywood party animal Tara.

Jessica Bern makes funny five minute video stories "of a neurotic woman's journey through her weekly visit to her therapist."

The Safe Kids people are working to raise awareness and prevent the leading killer of children: accidents.

Linda Andersom (yeah, South Bend!) is reducing her use of plastic.

Vanessa Druckman from Chefdruck Musing and the New Jersey Moms Blog and her lovely sister Jessica Rosenberg dropped by the condo after BowlHer for some bad wine and good conversation with Kim and me. Nice way to end the weekend.

Oh, wait. The actual conferencing thing? Like the seminars and such? Mmmm, let me put that in another post.

SYTYCD - My Favorite Routines and The One That You Need To See

The finale of So You Think You Can Dance airs tonight and I have loved this, my first, season. I've already gushed about Randi and Evan's derriere dance and Kupono and (gone too soon!) Ashley's crash test dummy routine, but here are a few more that I really enjoyed:

Melissa and Ade's first dance together, a lyrical contemporary piece - I can't forget their joyful run across the stage.

Karla and Jonathan, to "Falling Slowly," another romantic contemporary piece. When Karla was eliminated, host Cat Deeley asked her what she would remember from the competition and in tears, she said this dance.

Sorry, this is the third pretty and romantic piece in blue tones: Jason and Jeanine's "If It Kills Me," choreographed by Travis Wall, a former contestant.

Here is probably my favorite of the entire season: Janette and Brandon's jazz piece to Roisin Murphy's staccato and stuttery "Ruby Blue." Absolutely infectious. My six year old says "I only like the dances that tell a story" and her favorite is "the one with the thieves stealing the diamond."

The group dances usually drove me crazy because the director shot so close and cut so quick, that you lost the sense of the whole spectacle and missed a great deal of the dance. A sad example: The Mia Michaels choreographed "One." Gorgeous dance; you can barely see it.

Kupono and Kayla's addiction piece. Anyone who had experienced the ravages of addiction herself or through family or a friend feels this piece. Deeply.

And of course, most importantly, Melissa and Ade's breast cancer dance. That it was incredibly moving barely describes the emotional resonance of this piece. I sat on the couch, watching, sobbing and grabbing myself for a self-exam. A day or so after the airing, I scheduled a long overdue mammogram; I had the procedure today. All clear. I have a feeling I'm not the only woman inspired by this piece to take care of herself. I hope many more women will feel healed by its power.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Free Tickets to The Time Traveler's Wife!

If, like me, you are a fan of Chicago writers and couldn't put down Audrey Niffenegger's novel, The Time Traveler's Wife, then we're probably both burning with curiosity about the upcoming film adaptation. Will the film follow Henry's swirling chronology with the effortlessness and artfulness of Niffennegger? Will hunky Eric Bana capture Henry's charisma? Will the dynamic and always interesting Rachel McAdams upstage her acting partner? Will the visuals do justice to Clare's art?

If you're full of questions, not to worry. All will be answered Tuesday, August 11, 8pm at AMC River East, 322 E. Illinois Street, Chicago.

Readers of We All Fall Down are invited to a free screening of The Time Traveler's Wife!

Simply follow the link below and register with Gofobo. It's easy and non-invasive.

Enjoy! Hope to see you there!