Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Spring holidays tend to be particularly symbolic, tied to pagan traditions and rooted to the earth. Spring cleaning. Hope. Renewal. New life. Fertility. Freedom. Feasts and celebrations.

Growing up in LA, which has a huge Persian community, I somehow wasn't exposed to the biggest Persian communal holiday Noruz, even though I had several Persian friends. Noruz is an ancient Persian celebration of the spring equinox. I was struck by the elaborate beauty of this 13 day long celebration. The symbols of Noruz are particularly poetic: mirrors, grass, gold fish and eggs.

Wheat or lentil representing new growth is grown in a flat dish a few days before the New Year and is called Sabzeh (green shoots). Decorated with colorful ribbons, it is kept until Sizdah beh dar, the 13th day of the New Year, and then disposed outdoors. A few live gold fish (the most easily obtainable animal) are placed in a fish bowl. In the old days they would be returned to the riverbanks, but today most people will keep them. Mirrors are placed on the spread with lit candles as a symbol of fire.

Zoroastrians today place the lit candle in front of the mirror to increase the reflection of light. Mirrors were significant items in Zoroastrian art and architecture, and still are an integral part of most Iranian celebrations including weddings. They are extensively referred to in Iranian mystical literature as well and represent self-reflection. All Iranian burial shrines are still extensively decorated with mirrors, a popular decorative style of ancient times. Light is regarded as sacred by the Zoroastrians and the use of mirrors multiplies the reflection of light.

Wine was always present on the Haft Seen spread. Since the Muslim conquest, it has been replaced by vinegar because alcohol is banned in Islam. Egg, a universal symbol of fertility corresponding to Sepanta Armaiti, or mother earth, is still present. The eggs are hard-boiled and are traditionally colored in red, green or yellow, colors favored by Zoroastrians. Recently following the Easter Egg tradition, any color is used and they are elaborately decorated. The eggs are offered to children as treats.

Fresh garlic is used to warn off bad omen. This is a modern introduction. There is no evidence that it was used in this context before. However the ancient Iranians would grow seven different herbs for the New Year and garlic might have been one of them. Samano a thick brownish paste is present today. It is a nutritious meal and could have been part of the feasts. It is also possible that it has replaced Haoma, a scared herbal mix known for its healing properties. It was a major cult on its own with many rituals and ceremonies. The cult is still performed by the Zoroastrians today, but is abandoned by other Iranians. Coins symbolizing wealth and prosperity, fruits and special sweets and baked goods are also in the Haft Seen.

All kinds of food and delicacies are prepared with tea, drinks, fruits, bread, cheese and fresh herbs. Wealthy Iranians will spend the day in country homes. The occasion is a communal one and all close relatives and friends will participate. Wheat or barley shoots (Sabzeh) grown especially for the New Year are discarded in nature on this day. The picnic ends with the setting of the sun. The occasion has no religious significance and is celebrated by all. With the more modern Iranians there is music and dancing while most people will play games and sports. It is also believed that unwed girls can wish for a husband by going into the fields and tying a knot between green shoots, symbolizing a marital bond.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Spring is Here!

Spring color has saturated Seattle: purple and blue hyacinths have pushed up, sunny daffodils, magenta camellias and frothy cherry blossoms line the streets. The vernal equinox happened on March 21st, a dreary grey blustery day. But today we finally got a hint of summer. Elliot of course broke out his shorts and crocs.
Spring - by Gerard Manley Hopkins
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

Our Favorite Education Sites For Kids

There are tons of TV and product (webkinz freaks me out) web games for kids, all of the PBS kids and Nickelodeon shows have their own interactive games, but they're loaded with ads and designed to build loyalty to the show. I'm cautious about letting Elliot do any computer games regardless of product placement, but we have slowly opened the gates to a few sites (with good user interface) that have met our approval.

Great for pre-k kids as well. Interactive games that promote early literacy and math skills.

Elliot's gym teacher told him about this site (nice viral marketing) that has animated movies and games about famous authors (we watched Roald Dahl), ancient history, science and math concepts. Comprehension quiz after the movie.

Read Write Think
Simple phonics, prefix and suffix alphabet games.

ABC Education
Australian site with some great math games that are easy to manipulate.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Pirate's Life For Me

Elliot's T-ball team is called the "Golden Pirates." Elliot suggested they could be called the Golden Bald Eagles (my favorite) or the Golden Thunderbirds, but the pirates won by popular vote. At least they're not the Gold Stars. I don't know what it is about pirates, but they really speak to Elliot's generation. Something about living without rules? Just a guess. A Pirate's Life is a catchy tune, the lyrics are innocent and depraved at once.

Yo ho yo ho a pirate's life for me
we pillage we plunder we rifle we loot
drink up me hearties yo ho
we kidnap and ravage and don't give a hoot
drink up me hearties yo ho
yo ho yo ho a pirate's life for me
we extort we pilfer we filch and sack
we maraud and embezzle and even hijack
yo ho yo ho a pirate's life for me
we kindle and char we flame and ignite
drink up me hearties yo ho
we burn up the city we're really a fright
drink up me hardies yo ho
we're rascals and scoundrels and villains and knaves
drink up me hearties yo ho
we're devils and black sheep
we're really bad eggs
drink up me hearties yo ho
we're beggars and blighters and
ne'er-do-well cads
drink up me hearties yo ho
I think we're loved by our mommy's and dad's
drink up me hearties yo ho
yo ho yo ho a pirate's life for me

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Pippi Longstocking Lyrics

We were trying to remember the pippi lyrics today and we were completely off. Here are the English lyrics for pippi theme song.

Freckles on her nose
diddle diddle di
a girl came riding
into town one day
diddle diddle di
she was quite a sight
it's pippi longstocking
say ho ho he ha ha
it's pippi longstocking
there's no one like her
happy as can be
diddle diddle
pippi tells you stories
you just wait and see
tra la la la
she's quite a girl
she's got a house
an older funny house
a monkey and a horse
a suitcase full of gold and coins
you'll never ever ever find
a girl so strong
the grown ups here in town
tra la la la
pippi's world is fun
she makes kids happy
her make believe
the grown ups here in town
tra la la la
she is such an imp
tra la la la
you'll love her too.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Children in Babel, Half Nelson, Sherrybaby

We watched Babel, Sherrybaby and Half Nelson, all 2006 movies that received oodles of accolades, back-to-back last week. Half Nelson (Ryan Gosling plays an addict) and Sherrybaby (Maggie Gyllenhaal plays an addict) share obvious similarities, but Babel also fits into the theme of troubled adults and their relationships with children. Children are often idealized in storytelling - they're bland or cute stand-in's for purity, innocence, salvation, wilderness, the future, hope (Little Miss Sunshine) so I was interested to analyze how well developed the child characters were and what purpose they served in each of the above films.

Half Nelson
Ryan Gosling (swoon) is fascinating to watch as Dan, a charming and immature middle school history teacher on crack. As extreme as the plot sounds, the story was subtle and unsensational, and the actors were magnetic. It doesn't follow the standard redemption myth - nothing is idealized or villainized, we don't know if this guy will ever recover, we don't understand why he's an addict - he has self respect, passion for social justice and really connects with kids. He has periods where he isn't using and he's got it together. So we're devastated each time he relapses, over and over again. Dan is self centered and charismatic - as popular teachers generally are (cult of personality) - and his complicated friendship with his lonely student Drey, who ends up selling him drugs - is the crux of the film. Drey isn't a wise child, she isn't cute or innocent, bucking the stereotype.

Half Nelson works well as a Jungian coming of age story. Dan's mask is crumbling, he's steeped in his shadow, then he recognizes his anima (Drey) who represents the feminine aspects of his persona, she's forgiving, she accepts him even though he's a wreck. She is his soul image, his guide out of his shadow unconscious. The film is satisfying because he has made progress toward individuation, integrating aspects of self.

Maggie Gyllenhaal was excellent as another self centered (but not charismatic) addict. Sexually abused as a child, Sherry is completely unconscious, immature, sexually inappropriate, and competes for attention with her 6 year old daughter. We see her grow and recognize that she needs help, but the tone is rotten and seedy thoughout the whole film. She lacks self respect. Children save her several times. Getting a job as a preschool assistant keeps her out of prison. Her desire to be a mother to her daughter also keeps her from making some really bad decisions. The children in Sherrybaby symbolize purity; they serve as mirrors, reminding Sherry she is still a child. The film ends with Sherry acknowlegding that she can't do it alone, but she hasn't met her animus. She's still swimming in her unconcious and far from individuation.

Babel was the weakest film of the group, preachy and pessimistic. I completely lost trust in the movie at mid point, but it also has some interesting child characters. Each of the 3 stories in Babel features parents and children. The parents are emotionally and/or geographically distant from their children. The children in the Moroccan story are well developed, the father favors his youngest son, the brothers are competitive. I feared they would end up shooting each other. The deaf Japanese girl is an interesting character, acting out her grief and angst, fabricating stories. She pushes her father away and he's not available to her either, yet she's protective of him. The theme of miscommunication (how different rules apply to the wealthy and powerful) works especially well with the Japanese and Moroccan stories. But the idealized white American children kill the movie. They're symbols of purity and innocence and nothing more. They're sacrificial lambs meant to illicit our tears.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Gorgeous Tiny Chicken Machine Show

Our new favorite YouTube video. I feel sort of guilty for condoning the potty humor, but it's very mild and I'm sorry, it's really funny. What's so funny about chickens? I explained the context to Elliot, some Japanese talk shows are this wacky, mispronunciation, bad translations etc, but he could care less. Spinning the "Wheel of Fun" chicken makes Elliot break into gales of laughter. Love the song, "talk to the hot dog, it can read your mind, it's a very frisky feeling."

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Kid Food

Pre-foodie revolution, my childhood in the 70s and early 80s was filled with truly terrible food: American cheese toast, creamed chipped beef on toast (my dad's specialty), avocado with mayonnaise (another favorite of my dad's), canned peaches on cottage cheese, canned green beans, spaghetti with meat marinara, baked chicken, hamburgers, kosher hot dogs, mac and cheese with hot dogs, tuna sandwhiches, iceburg lettuce salads with mushy tomatoes and Italian dressing, chicken casseroles. Mostly home made. But high in fat and sodium.

Danny lucked out, Roberta was always health conscious and created a childhood food landscape that was much more evolved. Although Danny says that he didn't appreciate it at the time - a typical meal might include any or all of the following: chicken with panko bread crumbs and plum sauce, turkey burgers, brown rice and tofu.

When I started making my own food as a pre-teen, I was compelled to load garlic butter on everything I ate. Spaghetti with garlic butter and parmesean cheese. I made my own "party mix " with pretzels and chex cereral saturated in hot salty garlic butter. I microwaved garlic butter slathered bagels (this concoction required that I cover the bagel in plastic wrap which melted into the bread). I peeled off the melted plastic, but I'm sure this multiplied my risk of cancer 100x. Sally and I went through a phase where we cooked hamburger patties with a side of canned sliced potatoes (with butter and salt of course). I also ate loads of peanut butter mixed with ice cream or chocolate. It was a miracle I didn't become obese.

So now as a parent, how do I feed my kids? Have I cultivated a international, healthy gourmet palette in my kids? Well international yes, but healthy, no. When we eat out it's easier to feed them. They both like burritos. They like noodles -- udon, pad thai, pad see ew, pho -- that's all good. Elliot used to like aloo matar paneer, but now he'll only eat tandori chicken and naan. Asher loves rice and bread.

But at home we're really a mess. We're rarely on top of it enough to make more than two things for dinner. Trader Joes dominates our refrigerator - fake corn dogs, fake chicken nuggets, quesadillas, baby carrots, pasta and cheese, turkey dogs, chicken noodle soup, string cheese, yogurt. We occassionally make lasagne or enchiladas (which the kids won't eat - Asher claims that he wants to eat the lasagne but then it just sits there). We can't figure out what to feed Asher, he's off meat, off cheese, off eggs, off chicken noodle soup, off pasta (mac and cheese included). He'll eat any fruit, dried or fresh. He'll eat bread. But no protein.

Last night we had an especially ambitious meal: leftover chicken, homemade mac and cheese, french lentils, broccoli with cheddar cheese and bread. Asher ate the bread. Elliot ate the chicken and broccoli (after much coercion), but refused to eat the mac and cheese (it wasn't like Amy's frozen mac and cheese).

Danny thinks its time to go out to eat more. I agree.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Wishing We Were in Hawaii

Cousin Ila, Uncle Joel and Aunt Bessie came to Seattle for Grandpa's 65th birthday bash / February Luau. A wild time was had by all. Plastic leis, tropical drinks, tiki torches and loopy kids running around. Who knew Danny was such a skilled hula hooper? It was bitterly cold outside, but most everyone came in Hawaiian-esque attire. At least it wasn't snowing (as it did twice later in the week - it's March, what's going on?).

Elliot has taken on the role of elder statesman in the family. (Gawd he's such a ham, we've got to sign him up for acting classes.). His card for Grandpa included all of the grandkids. Note how Ila is wearing a dress and has long blond hair. Happy Birthday Grandpa!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

This boy and MK and I have something in common.

I saw this video and I thought it was a fun little video about children and how they grow up.