Tag Archives: New York Times

Insomnia party, anyone?

Well hey, it seems I can no longer blame my insomnia on my mother, my husband’s snoring, or my children. Apparently, I have no one to blame but myself.

According to an article by Pamela Paul, “Sleep medication: Mother’s new little helper” in Sunday’s New York Times, nearly 3 in 10 American women find solace in sleep aids (i.e. Ambien, melatonin) to get a good night’s sleep. The rest of us lay awake, our minds racing from thought to thought….did I include the wrong person on that last hastily-sent e-mail….why did my child miss that word on the weekly spelling test…did I remember to lock the front door? Seems like silly stuff, but at 3:30 a.m., it’s overwhelmingly important.

Here’s the interesting thing. It’s worse for moms. According to Paul, most can trace their initial bouts of insomnia to the sleepless nights of pregnancy. Remember those? Trying to find a comfortable position when Baby is doing gymnastics inside you is next to impossible. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get any better after Baby is born.

Nope, as Paul says, “the sleeplessness of pregnancy, followed by the sleeplessness generated by an infant (a period in which a staggering — truly — 84 percent of women experience insomnia), is not followed by a makeup period of rest. It is merely the setup for what can become a permanent modus operandi.”

Let me tell you…she’s right. OH so right. Darn it anyway. I had hoped that by age 55, I’d be sleeping soundly as a baby on a full stomach. But it is not to be. In fact, I have proof. My own mother, now 89, regularly admits to frequent periods of wakefulness at 3 a.m. But she has the advantage of being able to sleep in…assuming she finally falls asleep while reading one of the books stacked beside her bed for that very purpose.

There are nights when I conk out immediately, only to waken four hours later…wide awake, mind racing. Sometimes meditation works but when that fails, I finally give up on returning to dreamland. Those are the nights when I get some writing done, grade papers, mop the kitchen floor, sew, go for a run, and yes, sometimes, eat. Why not? It’s better than taking a pill — to which I’ve not yet resorted.

It’s good to know that I’m not alone. In fact, there have been times when I’ve logged on to Facebook at 3 a.m. only to find at least one other female friend who is wide awake. And so…we chat.

Now if all of my friends could coordinate our moments of sleeplessness, we could have a middle-of-the-night party. After all, we seem to be too busy to schedule them during normal waking hours.

A letter to The Queen

Dear Queen Liz,

Quite honestly, I’m not sure you’ll ever see this request, but maybe it will somehow work its way up through the ranks to your level. Maybe the consort to the consort to the consort of your consort’s consort will just happen upon my blog and send it your way. Who knows?

I know you’re a busy woman, what with choosing your bonnet for the day, celebrating Prince Wills’ recent engagement, and choosing which British subject to bestow with the title of knight. Which, by the way, brings me to my subject. Knightdom. Or Damedom. Or more specifically, “those who should be knighted or be named a dame”.

According to my sources, knights and dames are typically so named in recognition for “services rendered to society”. Apparently, those services are no longer necessarily martial in nature (i.e. the Sirs Elton John and Paul McCartney, and the Dames Judi Dench and Julie Andrews — my personal favorite, but that’s neither here nor there). What I can’t figure out is how and when you decide someone is deserving of such an honor and/or if your British subjects may submit nominees to such awards.

I am, of course, not British, although I have to say I adore British mysteries (P.D., Agatha, Dorothy, etc.). Just a side comment, there. Anyway, on the outside chance you have run out of folks to knight or dame, I’ve compiled my own list of nominees. This list took some careful consideration — usually during those morning runs when my mind was not preoccupied by the local black-bellied whistling duck and/or American Bald Eagle. Sorry to drop that reference to “American” but I don’t know if you Brits have your own eagle.

So here’s my short list, in no order of preference. Yes, I realize these folks are not British but let’s not quibble over formalities, and yes, some of these would be awarded — pardon the phrase — “post-mortem”.

*Lew Wallace (the inventor behind the snooze button)
*Corrine Boehr (just because she makes everyone feel they’re the most important person in the world)
*Meryl Streep (you know who she is — c’mon, you HAVE to have seen “Mamma Mia” since all those Brits danced and sang alongside her)
*M.C. Beaton (hey, she’s Scottish, and yes, I know that’s her pseudonym)
*Dr. Timothy Noakes (author of “The Lore of Running” — maybe you’re not a runner, but if you are, get a copy)
*Jeff Kantner (he owns our local hardware and can fix almost anything — including our staple gun)
*Gilda Radner (remember Roseanne Roseannadanna of SNL fame — surely she made even you crack a smile?)
*Tony Shalhoub, AKA Adrian Monk (if you knight him, I’ll convince JP and Tim to invite you to our Monk party)
*Maureen Dowd (read the NY Times — she proves just how far a degree in English lit can take you)
*John “The Penguin” Bingham, (for a number of reasons, not the least of which is his current status as national spokesperson for Team In Training

Please note that I’ve provided some live links to some of the nominees….just in case you need to check them out. So, I’ll leave it at that — don’t want to be a bore — but if you need more specifics and/or other suggestions, just give me a jingle.

Tally ho…’ta…cheerio,

Mary Pannabecker Steiner




Print textbooks preferred over digital versions? Really?

Well. Surprise surprise. It seems today’s college students aren’t completely sold on everything digital. According to an article by Lisa Foderaro in today’s New York Times, many students still prefer print textbooks over the electronic version (In Digital Age).

According to the article, students cite a variety of reasons for preferring print textbooks — screens won’t go blank, no chance of a virus, and the plain old fact that academia is entrenched in print. So much for the hope that college students will quickly replace their print books with the new digital book readers.

 Betcha the chiropractors are smiling….they’ll still be needed to straighten out their backs bowed by those whopper bookbags.

Seriously, though, despite the belief that digital is taking over print, it appears that it may not be true when it comes to college textbooks. Despite the increasing costs, students are still reading print versions. One student said he didn’t want to switch to digital because he’d be too tempted to play around on social networking sites instead of studying. No doubt.

This makes me happy for a number of reasons. I don’t have to feel guilty about not really wanting to buy myself a digital book reader…not that I’m planning to return to school. I also don’t have to get rid of those textbooks that line the shelves in my office — a reminder of the hours I spent studying during graduate school. Besides, when I teach, I’d much rather tell my students to “get out your book” than “turn on your book”. There’s something just wrong about saying that.

Despite what Foderaro reports and what I hope is true, I have a sneaking suspicion that somewhere out there in northeastern Ohio is a certain PhD student reading this even as she is planning her Christmas list, at the top of which I suspect will be a digital book reader. Sigh. She’s laughing as she’s reading this. But remember, kiddo, print isn’t out yet. You better hang on to your book bag.

Picture book is “fading”? Say it ain’t so!

Apparently, the picture book is “fading”. According to an article in the Oct. 7 issue of the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/08/us/08picture.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1), parents are pushing their kindergartners and first-graders to chuck aside their favorite picture books for the more text-heavy books.

Here’s the thing. Note who is doing the actual pulling and pushing.

Unfortunately, much of this need to push is fueled by state-imposed testing on kids to do more and better every year. And we all know that reading is the basis of doing well overall. Still, we can’t blame it entirely on the government educators; it is after all, the parents who are buying the books and steering their little ones ever closer to what is commonly known as “young adult fiction.”

On one level, I can understand this push to lead kids away from the “ease” of a picture book in an attempt to “keep up with the Joneses”. After all, who wants her child gazing at the pictures in “The Cat in the Hat” or “Cars and Trucks and Things That Go” if the kid next door is soaking up word after word of “Stuart Little” or “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

But on another level, this scares me. I worry that we’re teaching kids that reading is a chore, and forgetting the pure joy one gets from learning to connect a picture to the theme or character of the book. Truthfully, I’ll admit I’m glad this push didn’t come until years after my kids spent hour after hour with old favorites like “Good Night Moon” and “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”. Nothing could match the whimsical illustrations in an Eric Carle book or the bright colors of Richard Scarry’s  books.

It reminds me of a day long ago when I was pregnant with daughter number 2. My sister-in-law had taken me and my youngest daughter, then about 2 1/2, to a store featuring maternity clothes. While I tried on clothes, Lindsay sat at my feet, pulled a book from a basket on the floor, and proceeded to “read”, word for word, Richard Scarry’s “Mr. Paint Pig” which is — sadly — now out of print. (http://www.amazon.com/Richard-Scarrys-Color-Book-Scarry/dp/039483237X)

Fascinated, the sales clerk stared at her, then asked if she could really read. “Of course”, we replied. The fact that she’d actually just memorized the words didn’t change the fact that in Lindsay’s mind, she was reading. Had we given her a completely unfamiliar book, she’d simply have accepted it and slowly “read” the pictures.

All this says to me is that once again, we’re pushing. Too much. Case in point: the author of the NYTimes article tells the story of a 6 1/2 year old boy who began reading chapter books several years ago, yet today his mother describes him as a “reluctant reader” who sometimes tries to return to picture books.

So let him enjoy them. Where’s the harm? After all, many of my adult friends often tell me how much they enjoy (still) reading picture books. Some days, it’s a good antidote to stress.


Fashion designers try out “Zero Waste Design”; welcome to our world

Zero Waste Design. Sounds impressive. According to an article in the Sunday New York Times, fashion designers are trying to avoid wasting fabric. Doing that requires designing patterns that fit in a sort of jigsaw design, thus using the least amount of fabric necessary. This fall, Parsons, the New School for Design, will offer its first course in zero waste design.

Oh my. What will they think of next? ‘Scuse the sarcasm, folks, but we old-style seamstresses in small town America, have been zero-wasting our fabric since our mothers and grandmothers (and maybe even some granddads) learned to place and replace our pattern pieces until they fit just right so as not to waste an inch of fabric. We even learned to use odd pieces of fabric for those facings that wouldn’t be seen from the outside.

Sorry, Sandra Erickson (founder and director of the Center for Pattern Design), contrary to what you think, this is not an “idea whose time has come.” This is an idea that has been around for years — you’ve just discovered it might work for high fashion. Not that we aren’t glad you’ve decided to join the rest of us who have been creating clothing with what we have and recreating new designs from old clothing (i.e., vintage wool coats discovered in attics and thrift shops). We’re happy you’re thinking more carefully; just don’t suggest this is a “new idea” from high end designers.

Lest I sound too snarky, I should point out the fact that the article did admit that history does suggest that we little folk have been using zero waste design since way back when. But that admission is hidden farther down in the article than most readers will read….little journalistic trick.

A few weeks ago, while leafing through some old photo albums, I found a photo of my mom standing somewhat self-consciously in a long white dress (well, it was a black and white photo, so I assumed the dress was white). It was, she said, her senior piano recital dress. She’d fallen in love with the fabric, which had tiny flowers on it, the minute she saw it. Unfortunately, there wasn’t quite enough fabric left on the bolt. Somehow, though, she managed to work her magic on the fabric; the dress looked perfect to me.

Reading the Times article prompted me to dig through my cedar trunk for two tiny coats. The smaller of the two is made of  tan wool with brown velvet collar and brown velvet-covered buttons. When I was little, my mother made this winter coat from an old one that she could no longer wear. Rather than throwing it out, she recycled it into something new for me.

About 20 years ago, while taking a tailoring course, I was left with a nice piece of fine red wool. It was just enough for a coat for my youngest daughter so I took a clue from my mom and finished it with black velvet-covered buttons and black velvet collar.

According to the Times article, Parsons’ students will learn to use scraps of fabric to design patches, curlicues, and other enhancements to clothing items. Indeed, they may learn to use the larger scraps to create a whole new item of clothing. Imagine that.

Zero Waste Design. Truly, not an idea “whose time has come” but an old idea made new. We’ll just let them think it was their idea.