Your Comments and Recommended Reading

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After reading “Don’t Sweat the Chicken Soup” yesterday (which quickly became our most read story ever) by Bohemian Rhapsody columnist Marion Winik, another BFB writer and Hot House columnist Cynthia McIntyre suggested we recommend to you, dear reader, “How To Land Your Kid In Therapy,” from The Atlantic Monthly. “It addresses what lots of us have been thinking as we look around at kids (other people’s, naturally). Best line? ‘Our children are not our masterpieces…'” Cynthia wrote in her email to us.  I proudly reported back to her that associate editor Rachel Monroe already wrote a post on the article last week. 

Speaking of Bohemian Rhapsody, the column regularly generates some of our favorite comments from you, like this one from Mary about “Scrabble, and Other Secret Languages.”

“Nobody plays Scrabble or works the NY Times crossword unless they are driven to it.  My sister can’t wait for me to set down my suitcase when I ‘go home’ before she gets out her deluxe board.  After many years of regularly losing to her, I’ve decided there are two kinds of Scrabble players: competitors (my sis and my late husband who I once discovered upstairs in the bedroom reading  a dictionary just before a family match) and nice guys (suckers like myself who plunk down low-count words to keep the board spread out and open in case we get enough letters to make a high-point word).  I’m going to work on those two-letter words before my summer trip home.” 

You are were greatly moved, too, by “Where are the Coffee Shops” by Rachel Monroe.  We especially liked this practical response from Andrew Hazlett:

“In recent years I’ve spent many a day trying to get work done in Hampden while our car gets serviced at Brentwood. It’s a wifi desert! There are plenty of other places in other neighborhoods that fit the bill for coffee-fueled freelance work, but Hampden seems to be missing an opportunity here. Most people who will sit and spend a few hours working understand they have to ‘pay their way’ in purchases, so I don’t understand why Hampden seems reluctant to add this crucial service to good customers.”

Hampden, take note.

And lastly, this insightful comment from chirper47 about “Do Extroverts Really Have More Fun?” by senior editor Betsy Boyd:

“I had a friend with a child at a local girls private school who was told that she should hold back her child a year because the child was shy. Huh? Since when does that warrant an extra year in school? Lately, shyness has been looked upon as a pathology.  Weird. Not everyone can be the life of the party, thank God. Wouldn’t that be an obnoxious world?”

Thanks for reading. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Violence at the Inner Harbor Provides Fodder for Mayoral Challengers

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After a fatal stabbing and a non-fatal shooting at the Inner Harbor on Independence Day, mayoral challengers were quick to present their explanations for the violence.

According to an article in The Baltimore Sun, Otis Rolley offered this rather simplistic syllogism: “When you fail to invest in education, when you fail to invest in rec centers, you can’t be surprised when you see this kind of violence.” State Senator Catherine Pugh reportedly blamed the two separate incidents on lead poisoning, which can cause behavior disorders.

Violent crime is a major issue for Baltimore, and it deserves a more realistic discussion. Surely, greater investment in education and community-building programs could have positive effects for the city, one of which might even be a decline in violent crime, and lead poisoning is a concern worthy of city-wide attention. But it is irresponsible to offer premature and politically convenient answers to what are specific, unsolved crimes.

The implication in these opportunistic claims by Rolley and Pugh is that violent crime is not determined by several complicated factors, and further that the mayor is endowed with the godlike power to end violence in the city. It’s as simple as implementing some particular policy.

I’m willing to believe that the mayor and city council may have the ability to make Baltimore a safer place, through programs and legislation, but the argument for any given course of action needs to be supported by coherent and logical reasoning, not emotional sloganeering.

O

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Plan to eat at least one locally grown food a day during Buy Local Week, July 23-31–Berger cookies don’t count, unfortunately–and you’ll join more than 2500 Marylanders who have made the promise to shop local farms, farm stands, farmers’ markets, wineries, and grocers in our great vegetative state. Restaurants serving local goodies are another purely convenient resource. (Woodberry Kitchen, Clementine, whose website lists farm suppliers, The Yabba Pot, The Dogwood, Classic Catering and Chef’s Expressions catering companies are but a few. Keep in mind: It’s not too late to ask your favorite restaurant proprietor to join the movement). Even Governor O’Malley has endorsed the good-for-us goal. He’ll host Maryland’s fourth “Buy Local Cookout” at the Government House in Annapolis on July 21 (invite only), when local food recipe finalists will serve up yummy dishes, and a homegrown winner among chefs shall be crowned.

Click here to take the Buy Local pledge + pluck more nourishing information.
Dig up additional locally grown news here and here.

Ruxton Refined

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Let’s play a game. Pretend you are the co-founder, former chair and CEO of one of Baltimore’s most successful investment firms. You are married to a Louisiana-bred beauty who is known for her grace and impeccable taste. Picture your house. Epic loveliness, right? Well, Chip and Rand Mason’s (yep, Legg Mason) Ruxton home is selling for $5.6 million and, if you’re doing imaginative visualization with me, it is not going to surprise you in the least.

The “venerable French inspired manse” is certainly both epic and lovely. Set on 12 acres on Ruxton’s most coveted street, Circle Road, the house has all the expected amenities: six bedrooms, grand foyer, pool, pavilion, tennis court and plenty of patios and terraces from which you can soak in the surrounding beauty. Mrs. Mason’s Louisiana roots are evident throughout the home. Notice the unmistakable French Quarter-style shutters and ironwork in the exterior shots. Makes me want a beignet. Oh who am I kidding, make it a Hurricane. The theme continues inside where the French furnishings are done up in a palette scooped right from a gelato shop. Tres jolie. The peach and mint living room is quintessential Southern prettiness but the real star of the show is the master bedroom. The curved wall of windows and the ridiculously sized “sitting area” make me woozy, and downright snoozy, with delight.  I picture lounging on that green banquet, enjoying my tea, while planning a festive brunch menu (which I will pass to the caterers of course). Hey, a girl can dream.

Chip retired from Legg Mason in 2008 and one could assume that is the impetus for the move. He started Mason and Co. at the age of 25 and after merging with Legg and Co. in 1970, took the company public in 1974. His ride to success has included a deal with Citigroup which brought the company to a peak of $830 billion in asset management in 2005. No wonder the house is similarly generous. Mr. Mason also takes his civic duties seriously. He has chaired the Securities Industry Association, served as Emeritus trustee of Hopkins and on the boards of the BMA, United Way and National Aquarium just to name a few. Perhaps the guy is just tired of mowing that 12-acre lawn–kidding, kidding! Rumor has it that the couple spends most of their time in Florida these days and are looking downtown for their next Baltimore pad. With his resources and her discerning eye, it’s sure to be a showstopper.

Clean Living with Jennifer Aniston

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One of the fabulous perks of working at MICA is the chance to snap up amazing artwork before anyone else. A few years ago, in a basement studio exhibition at the college, I spotted the strange and wonderful painting pictured here. The artist of the piece is Chuck Wing, a former MICA student and ex-painter who now lives in L.A., where he works as a technician in the movie industry. This painting, which features recurring images of a “Friends”-era Jennifer Aniston overlaid with a Smurfette motif, is entitled “Lactose Intolerant,” and was originally accompanied by a large piece of sculpted cheese that I discarded, since it was a little unwieldy.

When I asked about the title, Chuck told me that, at the time he created the piece, Jennifer Aniston reigned supreme as television’s  “It” girl. His friends had crushes on her, he told me, and he seemed to be alone in his immunity to her cheesy, plastic appeal. Chuck saw Jennifer Aniston as Hollywood’s latest version of the Smurfette, who, as Smurf fans may recall, was manufactured specifically to serve as the love interest of every single Smurf.

Warhol is obviously a strong influence, as Chuck admitted, as are other pop artists like Lichtenstein and Jasper Johns, but there is a kind of mysterious sadness to the picture that makes it a true original. I like the painting so much, in fact, that I have re-designed my bathroom around it (see image), painting the walls bright purple to match the painting’s vivid fluorescence. I’ve always preferred taking baths to showers, so I got rid of the shower and installed a claw-foot tub, a bargain acquired from Second Chance Architectural Salvage. I refinished the tub myself, and painted it purple with gold feet. The black chandelier was purchased for a song on eBay. Since the faucet seems to have been lost in transit, I am still waiting to take a bath, but when I do, you can bet it will be a long, deep, hot one—with bubbles.

This Friday: Fun With Poetry. And Videos. And Kazoos?

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Imagine a music video made especially for a Greek chorus — if that Greek chorus were, say, reciting your favorite poems. Well, that’s what Parallel Octave do, and trust me — it’s the kind of thing you never knew you were missing til you see it for the first time. For many people, the first time will be this Friday, when Parallel Octave — those zany local choral improvisers/poem lovers/mash-up artiststhrow a party at the Creative Alliance to celebrate their first film anthology.

Here’s some of the things they promise:  eight videos for Parallel Octave tracks shot by local creative types (“W.B. Yeats performed by giant plastic lizards! Emily Dickinson read over a soundtrack of pitch-shifting synthesizers!”); opening short films and performances by Baltimore superstars (including Cricket Arrison, Jimmy Joe Roche, and Bethany Dinsick); and a live set by Forks of Ivy.

If all that spectating starts to make you feel left out, no worries — the evening will also include a collaborative improvisation of a Hart Crane poem, complete with audience participation and kazoos.

It’ll be the most poetical fun — or the funnest poetry? — you’ll have all year.

Hampden Gets a New Grocery Store

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If you happened to have a particular fondness for Superfresh, then we’ve got some sad news for you:  all their area grocery stores are closed, and several — including the one in Hampden — are about to get a speedy makeover/takeover from a Canadian company that no one seems to know much about.

Here’s what people have pieced together:  Fresh & Green’s, owned by a natural foods services team from Toronto, took over the Charles St. Superfresh last week; a new one will colonize the former Superfresh in Hampden, on 41st St., by the end of this week. The changeover is happening as quickly as possible — a mere 36 hours in the case of the downtown store — because the new owners don’t want to disrupt the routine of their regular shoppers.

While Superfresh was pretty much a generic grocery store, Hampdenites are hoping for something a little different from the new store. Fresh & Green’s will apparently offer a “hybrid” store that combines all the standard grocery store offerings with expanded natural foods options, fresh prepared foods, and possibly even an in-store restaurant.

According to the company’s CEO, Matt Williams, “We’re pretty experienced in natural and organic grocery, and we feel that these eight stores would all benefit from having not just a token appearance of natural and organic but a strong presence. We see a couple of the stores being entirely natural and organic.”

As for all those Superfresh employees? They’ll have to reapply for new jobs at the re-vamped stores, and no one’s guaranteeing them employment.

Food Truck Rally Coming to a Neighborhood Near You

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Seems like this has been the summer that Baltimore’s gone food truck crazy. They’ve got cupcakes! They’ve got lobster rolls! They’re on Twitter! How can you not be intrigued? But sometimes the trucks’ untethered, roaming lifestyle works against them; as good as a food truck may be, sometimes it’s just hard to find the one you want.

Enter this Friday’s food truck rally:  Imagine a monster truck rally, but in the place of huge muddy cars, instead there’s gourmet food and drink served up from a mobile kitchen. Confirmed attendees are something of a greatest hits of Baltimore’s truck scene:  Kooper’s Chowhound Burger Wagon, Miss Shirley’s, Iced Gems, Souper Freak, GrrChe, and Gypsy Queen. Even better, there’ll be live music and wine/beer for sale to help you wash down  whatever dish (or three) you finally decide to sample. It all goes down this Friday, July 8 in Harbor East (421 Central Ave., to be exact) from 5-10pm.

And if you find yourself a burgeoning food truck addict, no fear — there are a few easy ways to keep track of them. Most simple is Citypeek’s “Mobile Food Truck-Cart-Wagon Finder,” which aggregates the Twitter feeds of local mobile snacks. This is a good option if you’re not a Twitter user yourself; if you are, you may want to consider following each individual food truck for super up-to-date news on their ever-changing locations. A partial list of some of our favorites is below.

Don’t Sweat the Chicken Soup (Recipe Included)

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Until you end up with a helpless infant on your hands, the seriousness of first-time parents looks ridiculous. Once there, you quickly grasp the problem. Your child could be hurt in any of 2.3 million ways, 1.9 million of which are your fault. It could even die, an unlikely prospect which will occur to you more than once a day. On the other hand, you could die and it could live. If you think you have little control now, wait till you’re dead. Should both of you survive, the seeds you plant with your early parenting will shape its entire future psyche, so if it turns out to be a criminal, a tyrant, a public disgrace, or just a miserable person, you will be Dina Lohan. Indeed, there are grounds for concern. The question is how to translate that anxiety into action.

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I became a mother in my late twenties, which was in the late ’80s.  I lived in Austin, Texas, where I had fallen in with an enclave of New Age earth-mother vigilantes. We labored without drugs, breastfed for 18 months minimum, used only cotton diapers and made baby food from scratch. My older son Hayes had no sugar until after his first birthday, and I never left him with a babysitter until then. If babies were not allowed at an event, I didn’t go either. No way, baby-haters.

Hayes’s room, his toys, his stroller, his car seat: everything was chosen with consideration. Every decision, from immunizations to nap schedule to toddler disciplinary style, was the result of research and discussion. Television — NO! Black and white geometric mobiles — YES! Weaning and toilet training were studied like epistemology and calculus. And take it from me: You’ll never run out of conversation with friends and strangers alike if your child uses a pacifier, as Hayes did. This is something people really, really want to give their two cents on, whether they see it as a moral failing, a developmental problem, or a gateway addiction. As a writer, I had a whole cottage industry going with pacifier-related articles and radio broadcasts.

When Vince was born two years after his brother — at home on tie-dyed sheets, with a midwife who took the placenta away in a yogurt container — I raised him approximately the same way. By this time, however, I had furtively acknowledged the usefulness of Pampers, TV, and even baby formula in certain situations. As time went on, privileges long awaited by his older brother came early to Vince, starting with late bedtimes and PG-13 movies (PG-9, it turns out) and continuing through cell phones and unsupervised girlfriend visits. (Put a box of condoms in the bathroom and get an unlimited text-messaging plan.)

By the time of text messages, however, my righteous parenting had long been blown off the map when the boys’ dad died of AIDS when they were four and six. Though I did see a counselor a few times and may have speed-read an article about children and grief, this was not the kind of challenge you face by consulting Parenting magazine. I trusted my gut on how to proceed. Though I had a lot of scary fantasies about how the boys would deal with their loss, I soon observed something I didn’t expect: their natural momentum and healing power. I let them show me. And though the truth was messy and complicated, I told them as much of it as they could handle at any time. I worked hard as a mom but I also took shortcuts. Thank you, Burger King. Thank you, Kraft. Thank you, Kendall-Jackson.

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At the advanced age of 42, I ended up back in the ugly white bra with Velcro-closing cups, thanks to my baby-freak second husband, who didn’t think his two and my two were enough.
Nursing was about the only way Jane’s babyhood resembled that of her older brothers. Breast pump, no way. Cloth diapers, ha ha. I’m not exactly certain when she started solid food, as her siblings were giving her French fries even as they taught her to play Grand Theft Auto on the PlayStation. She designed her own nap schedule; I left weaning and toilet training to her as well.

Then what happened? Oh, you know, the usual idyllic childhood, including substance abuse, delinquency and felony charges among the family members (cemetery desecration, car chases, ski trips gone bad), followed by marital war and divorce. Not quite as cataclysmic as her brothers’ dead father script, but not what you wish on your five-year-old.

Now Jane, 11, and I live more or less as roommates in our sweet little house in North Baltimore. To be sure, only one of us has a driver’s license and does most of the cooking and cleaning. That one sometime pulls rank and bosses the other around, forcing her to reach into her exquisite preteen diva toolkit to get revenge. Still, we have a pretty good time here, watching “Glee,” planning parties, taking dinner to the neighborhood pool, practicing her lines from the summer camp musical before we go to sleep with our miniature dachshund curled up between us. We will soon be able to share shoes.

Without a doubt Jane has a Leftover Mom — lazy, lax, full of excuses and in her mid-fifties for God’s sake. But with exhaustion has come a certain wisdom. I have observed children born of super-strict parents, helicopter parents, soccer moms, NASCAR dads, potheads, churchgoers and people who have staff members perform 75 percent of their parental duties. I have seen enough mental effort to solve the serious troubles of the human race poured into minor child-rearing decisions. And for those who decide differently: ostracism! scorn! jihad!

 

I do not deny that there are certain minimum requirements for safety, nutrition, health and hygiene. But very few styles of parenting actually blow it in this respect. The bigger problem is that there are too many unhappy, stressed out, exhausted parents who get little pleasure from parenting and are, in fact, about to snap. This snapping can go in many different directions and none of them is good.

The thing that gets undervalued in the quest to do everything right is the need to take some of the pressure off.  You have got to trust that you are the parent your child needs — like Bruno Bettelheim told ’em 25 years ago, Good Enough. Not that you don’t worry or you don’t care. But no matter how hard you try, you’re going to have bad days, you’ll make mistakes, and the best thing you can do is forgive yourself and move on. The reason anyone gets through major hell like my kids and I have faced is because we let it go. The reason anyone gets through a day that starts with whining, backtalk, shouting, curses, something wrong with these eggs, go live with your father, worst mother in the world, don’t touch me, don’t talk to me, cracked juice glass, awful radio station, enslavement to utter bitch, slammed door, silence and welcome to Tuesday! is because they let it go.

Jane and I usually rely on a simple hand on the knee to say it all.

Your inner peace and strength are your child’s greatest resource. This is not bullshit. When you’re okay, they’re okay. All the parenting micro-management in the world doesn’t change the thing that has the biggest effect on your kids: who you really are, in your heart and soul. That is the sky. Everything else is just the weather, the passing clouds.

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No-Sweat Chicken Soup


Bring about an inch and a half of water to a boil in a small saucepan, adding two sliced carrots, two sliced celery stalks, and a cup of cubed tofu. After about five minutes, add dried-up square of ramen noodles. When noodles are soft, flavor with the “chicken” packet they came with or some more healthful bouillon you bought at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Add chopped cilantro and a drizzle of sriracha sauce and serve to husband as well.

Marion Winik writes “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a column about life, love, and the pursuit of self-awareness. Check out her heartbreakingly honest and funny essays twice a month on Baltimore Fishbowl.

Will the Geeks Really Inherit the Earth?

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In Geeks, a new study of the high school misfit, Alexandra Robbins tracks a host of teen nerd archetypes:  “the loner, the gamer, the nerd, the new girl, the band geek and the weird girl.”

According to Robbins’ “Quirk Theory,” the very qualities that might get a kid sidelined as a nerd/geek/”cafeteria fringe” are the same traits that will help her succeed in the long run. Not much new there, at least if you’ve kept up with teen movies, or considered the many famous teen-nerd-makes-it-big celebrity stories (JK Rowling, Bruce Springsteen… Megan Foxx?!)

What’s new (or new-ish), according to Robbins, is that teachers, administrators, and parents are increasingly trying to mold these kids to be more like their popular equivalents. Creativity, individuality, a willingness to go against the grain — all are traits that would serve kids well as adults. That is, if they don’t get disciplined out of them by adults who would prefer that they fit in. It doesn’t help that teachers and administrators tend to promote students who are athletes or cheerleaders to act as de facto representatives of their schools, neglecting the quirky kid in the corner who might be both nicer and more brilliant. Robbins also points out that teenagers’ hypersensitivity extends to the adults around them, and that their awareness of cliques and popularity differences between teachers doesn’t help matters, either.

And so, “young people are trying frantically to force themselves into an unbending mold of expectations, convinced that they live in a two-tiered system in which they are either a resounding success or they have already failed.” The homogenization of the US educational system and the competitive atmosphere of many schools leaves kids feeling that non-conformity is akin to social death — which, to a hyped-up teenage mind, is  pretty much actual death.

It’s a pretty dire picture — does it ring true with you? In a city that celebrates its quirks, are oddball students getting the recognition and support they need?