Five Songs
Published on December 14, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about the five songs on the radio I'm really enjoying.

None of them are by Coldplay.

Or Adele.

Click here to found out what they are.

Lessons in Parenting
Feeding the Beast Within
Published on December 13, 2011 by guest author: J LeBlanc

As the holidays approach, what most people are thinking about is how not to eat too much.  I, however, am looking forward to the feasting. This is because breastfeeding quite simply makes me ravenous. It has slacked off somewhat as my son has begun nursing less and eating more solids, but I still experience surges of hunger where my usual eating habits just don’t seem to satisfy. When dinner is over I still feel a gnawing in my stomach.       

This is nothing new. It began sometime in my second trimester of pregnancy and has fluctuated since then. Often during pregnancy I would wake up in the middle of the night to discover I was ravenous. Getting up to eat a slice of bread helped, but the getting up part was daunting: fatigue pulled at me like so many barbells attached to my limbs, and disentangling myself from my network of pillows required too much effort.

My hunger spiked sharply just after my son was born. That first week home from the hospital, I remember my husband kindly bringing me what used to be a normal lunch: a hearty soup, some bread, some yogurt and fruit. It barely put a dent in my hunger. I wanted so badly to just get up and raid the kitchen myself, but soreness and fatigue held me back.


Wetter, Warmer Weather
Published on December 13, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about all the wet weather we've been having lately.

Here's an excerpt:

"My friend Tom is convinced that 2011 has been the wettest year of his life, and he might not be too far off.

In Albany, where we measure all our weather, 2011 was on record, as of the end of November, as the fourth wettest year. (The top three were 1871, 1870 and 1850, according to the National Weather Service.)

But it’s raining as I write this, and the year’s not over yet.

In New York City, there’s some argument over whether 2011 or 1983 is the wettest in history, the argument being over whether the rain gauge in Central Park was functioning properly in 1983.

In Ohio and in New Jersey, 2011 surpassed all previous (recorded) years in terms of rainfall about a month ago. In our own backyard, we’re still seeing the effects of the massive flooding that came after Hurricanes Irene and Lee.

So we all know it’s wet. Really wet."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Story of the Day
Published on December 13, 2011 by Sara Foss

When I worked as a reporter in Birmingham, I used to say that every story had an Alabama connection. The latest evidence that this is true is a story about a sperm donor scandal in New Zealand involving a former Birmingham city councilman and conservative Christian candidate for governor, Bill Johnson.

Johnson has spent the past year in Christchurch, helping with earthquake recovery. Unbeknownst to his wife, he has also been donating sperm, seeking women, including lesbian couples, who want to have children on the Internet, according to news reports. At least nine women have received his sperm, and three are now pregnant; New Zealand fertility clinic guidelines recommend that no man donate sperm to more than four families. Also, Johnson campaigned on an anti-gay platform back in Alabama.

Asked whether his wife knew about his activities, Johnson said, "She does now."

Anyway, strange story. Click here for the Mobile Press-Register's take, or here for the New Zealand Herald's take.

This Christmas Give the Gift of Bacon
Published on December 13, 2011 by Sara Foss

I love bacon, and so do many of my friends. Which is why I was pleased to see that Deadspin has put together a list of gifts for people who love bacon. Such as bacon-flavored soap. I mean, who wouldn't want that? Anyway, click here to see the rest of the items.

Watching "The Descendants"
Published on December 13, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about the Alexander Payne/George Clooney movie "The Descendants," which I enjoyed very much.

Click here to read the review.

Previous movie reviews: "A Serbian Film"


Best Comics of 2011: The Weird, the Wacky and the Wonderful
Published on December 12, 2011 by guest author: Eric J. Perkins

I read a lot of comics. Not so many that I have a pile waiting for me at the comic book store every week, but probably more than the average adult. Enough that on my old blog, I presented a 5 part comics primer for the completely uninitiated. For my take on how I define comics and how they can be subdived, please take a look at the first part of that primer, which you can find here.

In general, I think comics are one of our most underrated forms of art. Here I present some of my favorites of this past year.

Best Continuing Series
Chew, written by John Layman, drawn by Rob Guillory
Tony Chu is a detective turned FDA agent. An FDA agent in an alternative future in which bird flu has killed 23 million Americans and the buying, selling, preparation of, or consumption of chicken is completely illegal. So the FDA is actually now one of the most powerful branches of the government. Also, Tony is a Cibopath, which means he can telepathically see the history of anything he eats ... except beets. Agent Chu eats a lot of beets, because really, not many people really want to know where their food comes from. Unfortunately for Tony, he can see the history of anything he eats, including human murder victims. That's why the FDA hired him, and that's why he kind of hates his life.


Congratulations, Phantogram!
Published on December 12, 2011 by Sara Foss

Saratoga Springs, N.Y., band Phantogram has made Paste magazine's list of the 20 best new bands of 2011.

Check out Phantogram's new song, "Don't Move."

Class and Poverty Matter
Published on December 12, 2011 by Sara Foss

One of the things I always baffling about any discussion of how to improve low-performing schools is the fact that poverty is hardly ever mentioned. There's a lot of talk of classroom size, and teachers, and whether charter schools would help, but you rarely hear anyone seriously consider the impact of poverty on student achievement. As my friend Hanna once asked, "Shouldn't we really be talking about the parents?" My feeling is

Now a New York Times op-ed is asking the same thing, pointing to data showing that the achievement gap between children from high-and low-income families over the last 50 years and now far exceeds the gap between white and black students.

The op-ed notes:

"Results of the 2009 reading tests conducted by the Program for International Student Assessment show that, among 15-year-olds in the United States and the 13 countries whose students outperformed ours, students with lower economic and social status had far lower test scores than their more advantaged counterparts within every country. Can anyone credibly believe that the mediocre overall performance of American students on international tests is unrelated to the fact that one-fifth of American children live in poverty?

Yet federal education policy seems blind to all this. No Child Left Behind required all schools to bring all students to high levels of achievement but took no note of the challenges that disadvantaged students face. The legislation did, to be sure, specify that subgroups — defined by income, minority status and proficiency in English — must meet the same achievement standard. But it did so only to make sure that schools did not ignore their disadvantaged students — not to help them address the challenges they carry with them into the classroom."

Of course, my feeling is that nobody wants to talk about poverty because poverty is a big huge problem, and if you wanted to fix it you'd have to discuss really sensitive topics, like why the cost of pretty much everything has been increasing at a much faster pace than wages, and why unemployment in minority communities is so much higher than it is in white communities. It's easier to argue about merit pay and teacher's unions than talk about poverty, and that's why we hear so much less about poverty, even though it's the source of most our trouble.

Reading Sherman Alexie
Published on December 12, 2011 by Sara Foss

I just finished reading the Sherman Alexie young adult novel "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," and it's very good. If you're unfamiliar with Alexie's work, I'd recommend starting with his 1994 short story collection "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven," but "Absolutely True Diary" isn't a bad starting point, either.

Anyway, I blogged about "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" today at the DG, and you can find that post here.

Giving Up On Reissues: When My Favorite Band Played Me For a Sucker
Published on December 11, 2011 by guest author: Brian McElhiney

As an unhealthily obsessed Nirvana fan, I often find myself feeling like a teenager with an unrequited crush. Not only that, but the object of my crush totally knows I have a crush on her, too, and she’s playing me for all it’s worth.

Back in the early 2000s, former Nirvana members Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl began hinting at an all-inclusive box set that would finally compile the band’s heavily bootlegged rarities in one place. Not only that, the set would include the final song the band ever recorded! I was ecstatic. No, scratch that. I was screaming, squealing — my little 15-year-old heart was doing somersaults and my stomach churned with the anticipation of what could be.

(Finally, she noticed me!)

And then Courtney Love, ex-wife of late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, decided she didn’t like that idea, and promptly sued Novoselic and Grohl to stop the set, and the new song, from being released. The two parties eventually settled, and a stopgap best-of, including the new song, “You Know You’re Right,” was released in 2002.

(OK, so she toyed with my heart, but hey, she did smile at me! There’s hope! Right …?)


Rooting for the Local Team
Published on December 11, 2011 by Sara Foss

In my column this week at the DG, I write about taking in my first-ever local basketball game. I enjoyed it, but did reach the conclusion that, for the most part, I hate college sports.

Here's an excerpt:

"I love basketball, but I pay very little attention to college basketball, except when March Madness rolls around and I feel compelled to Get Into the Spirit of Things. My lack of knowledge results in random and fleeting loyalties: I’m partial to underdogs, but also to schools with unusual names, and schools that happen to be playing Duke. I also like to support Siena and UAlbany, because they’re local.

So when my landlord asked whether I wanted to go to the Siena-UAlbany game, I immediately said yes, despite my general ignorance about both teams. To make the event more fun, I decided to pick a team to root for, and since my landlord went to the University at Albany, rooting for the Great Danes (great mascot!) seemed like the thing to do. 'I’ve given it some thought,' I said, 'and I want the University at Albany to win.'

'I appreciate your support,' my landlord said."

Click here to read the whole thing.

The Age of Overparenting
Published on December 11, 2011 by Sara Foss

Boston Magazine has an article on overparenting, one of my favorite topics. I don't have kids, so I probably shouldn't criticize the way people parent. But I've been pretty amazed by the schedules some of the children I know maintain. These schedules rival my high school schedule. Which is crazy. Does a five-year-old really need to be doing a structured activity every single day? When I was five, I played in the yard and with my toys. I've also noticed that parents spend a great deal of time playing with their kids, and are really reluctant to let them out of their sight. This leads to totally ridiculous situations, like the controversy in a local school district over whether kids should be allowed to ride their bikes to school. Of course they should! But some worry it's too dangerous.

Anyway, the Boston Magazine is pretty good.

You can read it here.

What Not to Say to Someone Giving a Talk
Published on December 11, 2011 by Sara Foss

I gave a talk the other day to a friends of the library group affiliated with a local university. I don't enjoy public speaking, although I generally find it interesting and rewarding. Which might explain why I always accept invitations to speak to groups. I don't get a lot of them, so that makes it easier. Anyway, my speech the other day, which focused on my job as a reporter and column writer, went fairly well.

What I didn't appreciate, though, was having the person who introduced me essentially say that nobody in the audience reads the newspaper for which I work. Now, this could very well be true ... that I was invited to speak to a group of people who are almost completely unfamiliar with my paper. I have no way of knowing. But even if it is true ... why would you say that in your introduction? Why wouldn't you just omit that part? Out of politeness, you know. Of course, if someone says something like that in an introduction, you have to understand that you're dealing with a person who has no idea that they're being rude. Also, how hard is it to give an introduction that's informed and complimentary? Take a half hour, and put together something that doesn't make you sound like an idiot. After all, the person giving the speech probably spent some time preparing to speak to you - you could do the same for her.


Top Reads of the Week
Published on December 9, 2011 by Sara Foss

Music: Tony Are on Christmas music

Literature: Dan Schneider on contemporary love poetry and Sara Foss on the magic of books

Movies: J.K. Eisen on "A Serbian Film" and Sara Foss on "Hugo"

Parenting: J LeBlanc on having a baby after 30 and Cindy F. Crawford on hosting one big birthday party for her kids


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