Wednesday, May 30, 2007


A few months ago, at breakfast, my son pointed to page one in the daily paper and asked "is he hurt?" It was an AP photo from Iraq showing a car bombing, a man slumped over, dead. I lied and said he'd had an accident.

"The ambulance will be there soon," I said. My son was visibly relieved.

In the old days, newspapers policed themselves on the matter of corpses. Most simply didn't show them, the same way they didn't use the F word repeatedly as an adjective. But things change. I saw my first corpse in the local paper about 10 years ago, someone who'd died in a boating accident. Today, it's not at all uncommon. And my firetruck-loving son--who's got a built-in radar for emergency situations--always notices.

Last summer, he found some papers from September 12, 2001, and came running to ask what happened. "Bad guys," I said. He seemed to get it. These were burning buildings, after all. Not people. Recently, he found another front page and wanted to understand what those men were doing. They were Iraqis mourning, wailing painfully over the corpses right there in front of them, bodies half wrapped in white cotton, laying on a street curb.

Journalism rule no. 27: Don't make readers wince at the storytelling itself. Stories--the very real things that happen in this world-- may make readers wince and scream and cry and pass out because life can be a wretched, brutal, unmerciful thing, filled with as much misery and Guantanamo as mom's love and the Magic Kingdom. But storytelling, the device that conveys information, the photos and words, doesn't have to be cruel or flip or screaming in your face to get the point across. The story itself is enough.

My son didn't get it -- those bodies on the curb.

"Are they dead?" he asked.

"I think so," I said, thinking maybe I shouldn't shield him so much.

"But the ambulance will come and make them alive again," he said, decisively. It was not a question.

He believes so powerfully in the inevitability of rescue. That ambulances and firetrucks can--and will--fix everything. Even mortality. And it breaks my heart to know that one day, the world will reveal its truth: there's a terrible shortage of rescues and heroes.

One day he'll learn that. But not today.


Not so long ago, I began avoiding the daily paper, despite my obsession with Jumble and Sudoku. They'd sit for days on my snowy porch. Then I tossed them in a pile. Until one day I realized I was totally ignoring the news. I just wasn't doing it. And it wasn't just that my son chancing upon images of death and destruction was as inappropriate for a 5-year-old as stumbling across a Playboy or internet porn. It's that the news, right now, is just too much. The stories themselves hurt too much.

I called to unsubscribe a couple times but hung up out of total cognitive dissonance. How could a journalist unsubscribe? How could I leave a paper where I once, long long ago, was a reporter and editor? Well, it turns out that you just can. And finally, when the stack of unread papers reached 2 feet, I realized my indecision was making a mess, probably killing a whole aspen tree or something, and so I called, and I didn't hang up.

Now at breakfast we look at the morning sun or argue about how much cartoon-watching is healthy or look at the calendar and talk about all the things coming up--the birthday parties, vacations, picnics and parades.

It's liberating.

It's peaceful.

And life is beautiful, even if it's not. And that's okay. For now ...

Monday, May 28, 2007

Beyond the Tipping Point: Green Mac-n-Cheese

I was disproportionately overjoyed to find Kraft organic mac-n-cheese at the local grocery store recently, a clear sign that we've hit the tipping point in the go-green-go-organic race to the moon.

Now, I feel a little vulnerable here, outing myself, admitting I use boxed anything for dinner, but ... hey ... it happens. Even with those supermoms out there. At some point in the journey, we come to peace with the reality that we can do a lot, but we have our down days. The days when "what's for dinner?" is a tipping point into some sort of nuclear meltdown. Enter convenience foods.

Boxed mac-n-cheese give us a little break, now and then, from meal making. It's that simple. As with delivered pizza, it's a little like having a staff, if only for one meal. And now, with the advent of mass-produced organic boxed foods, mother's little helpers don't contain ten-syllable ingredients, cost $8 a serving, or take more than 12 minutes from start to finish. Hallelujah.

I know in some circuits, there's great debate about multinationals and organics. Yes, I'd prefer to be paying for locally made, organic, affordable convenience foods. But until that's available, I'd like to say thanks for all the foodmakers out there -- big and small, high and low -- who are helping us out with dinner and giving healthier foods, inch by inch, macaroni by macaroni.

Jack's Macs

Until this year, when my son encountered untampered-with macaroni and cheese at school (and liked it like that), we'd mix something (anything) into this childhood staple. Sometimes I'd hide things so he was getting vegetables without even knowing it. And usually I make homemade macaroni and cheese. Here's what we'd do:

Homemade: This is a no-bake version that's fairly quick and easy. Cook up several cups of macaroni. Any macaroni works, but our favorite is white spelt, which is usually only available at co-ops, and even then sporadically. (Rice macaroni seems to get a little soggy.) I douse each serving with a simple cheese sauce. Make a white sauce (2 T. butter, melted; stir in 2 T. flour until it's congealed; add 1 cup liquid (milk, broth) slowly, stirring as you go to eliminate lumps; toss in a cup or two of cheese (sharp cheddar seems to work best, but I use whatever's on hand.) For flour, use whatever works for you. We've used whole grain spelt flour, which has kind of a rustic autumn taste to it, and rice flour, which is really refined tasting (but doesn't store well, so don't do leftovers with it.)

Spinach-Tomato: This is the only kind of macaroni and cheese my son would eat for a year, between about 2-1/2 and 3-1/2. Just toss in (canned or fresh) tomatoes and (fresh) spinach. It's that simple. I always chopped the spinach into tiny slivers. For homemade, I'd mix everything together after the sauce/macaroni were ready, for boxed, just toss it all in at the end. There's enough heat there to warm the tomatoes and wilt the spinach. Grate some Parmesan on top if you like it.

Broccoli: If your child loves fresh broccoli (or cauliflower or asparagus), chop some up and toss it in. With homemade, I cook the broccoli in the cheese sauce. With boxed, I toss it in with the macaroni to cook. When my son was small, I chopped broccoli into tiny pieces, almost mincing it, but the pieces grew larger as he did.

Hiders: Best bets are onions, zucchini and summer squash. Cut them into pieces smaller than the macaroni, either cook in sauce (for homemade), with macaroni (boxed), or saute them separately until they're translucent. Be sure to peel the squashes so they can go undetected. Warning: Skip the onions if your child can detect them. These hiders also work well in spaghetti sauce (try finely finely sliced fresh spinach too).

Monday, May 7, 2007

Smallfish Clover: The Secret Lives of Boys

My dear friend, writer Heather Shaw, just launched a small cooperative press and is blogging her journey publishing "Smallfish Clover," a young adult novel about the adventures of an American boy who loses himself in a Peruvian market. It's a larger-than-life quest/adventure filled with street waifs, medicine girls, street theater and incredible writing.

I love how Heather gets kids and honors the epic worlds inside them. Here's a quote by Orson Scott Card from her web site,

We forget, in our society, that adolescence, for males at least, is not the age of preparation-for-career or getting-an-education, even though that's what we compel them to do.

Adolescence is the age of heroism. The age of poetry. The age of great dreams and noble ideals. The age of sacrifice…

…They hunger for something great to do. When cynical liars get to them, men of this age can be talked into strapping bombs on their bodies and blowing themselves up.

Pre-order her book here. Keep up on her publishing adventures at And hats off to Heather for undertaking her own epic journey.