Mar 10, 2014 Around NYC
Chirlane McCray, Mayor de Blasio, and Rebecca Levey
On Friday I joined some other bloggers and sat down with NYC’s Mayor Bill de Blasio, his wife, Chirlane McCray, and my friend Rebecca Levey, who did a lot of work to help get our mayor elected. I’m thrilled to see that she still has a role now that there is real work to do.
The topic of this blogger roundtable was the mayor’s plan to make Pre-K universal in NYC for everyone who wants it, and make after school programs available for all middle schoolers.
Both of these topics are very important to me. My kids were lucky enough to get Pre-K seats at our local school, and my son – now a seventh grader – goes to a middle school with a wealth of after school choices, all for free. That’s far from the case everywhere in NYC. We’re very fortunate.
Yes, I know it’s old news, but…Bill de Blasio is TALL! (Picture courtesy of the The City of New York Mayoral Photography Office – thank you!)
But the topics we were discussing were almost secondary to the fact that we were there at all, in the Blue Room at City Hall, with our new mayor, discussing policy.
And I don’t mean in a star-struck “OMG I can’t believe I’m here!!!!” way. After twelve years of Mayor Bloomberg turning a deaf ear to public school parents in NYC, it just felt great to be listened to. Invited. Asked for our opinions and our questions.
I’ll leave the specifics of the discussion for the end of the post though – I realize that most of my readers are not in NYC. I can give the rest of you a tour of City Hall.
City Hall Is Gorgeous, Old, and Not For Eating
This was my first time in City Hall, and I was a little overwhelmed by how gorgeous it is. And historic. And marble-y. And…crumb-averse. We were offered cookies (special Gracie Mansion cookies!), but begged to please not spill anything. Food is normally not allowed in the Blue Room, but someone must have gotten the word that if you invite bloggers somewhere, you have to feed them (it’s true). As far as I could tell, we all behaved.
Rebecca and me in the bullpen at City Hall (picture courtesy of Rebecca, who didn’t answer my tweet in time, but I’m assuming it’s OK!)
Rebecca and I were lucky enough to get a tour of City Hall after the meeting. There are a lot of very, very large paintings throughout the building. Seriously, they are immense. And imposing. And male. And white.
Our last two mayors, Bloomberg and Giuliani
Wearing white tie and tails outdoors wasn’t former NYS Governor William Seward’s only folly (and that’s really the only land acquisition joke I will ever likely make)
Martin Van Buren: sideburns for days and days
Seeing George Washington’s writing desk was definitely a highlight
City Council chambers are through that door
If you’re in NYC and interested in the specifics…
There were some good questions from the bloggers.
Kim asked if the programs are going to be optional or mandatory, and the mayor confirmed that they will be optional: “This is about giving parents who really want these options the choice. There’s a huge amount of demand not being met right now.”
Serena asked about the space for these new programs. The mayor explained that existing school space plus community space will work in most cases, but in some cases the only solution is to create Pre-K centers, with city capital funds.
Of course, this brings up another problem: just because your child gets into a Pre-K program does not guarantee her a spot in that same school for kindergarten, and in a Pre-K center, continuing at that same place would not be an option at all. But at least some kids would have a spot for that important Pre-K year – it’s a step.
Adam pointed out that school nurses leave at the the end of the school day. Would middle schools be keeping someone on for the after-school portion of the day to help with kids who have special medical needs?
The mayor didn’t have a definite answer for this, but he did point to the Community Schools Model used in Cincinnati, which provides schools with services such as full-time nurses, mental health professionals, mentors, and jobs programs. Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Lilliam Barrios-Paoli added that there will be a question on the middle school after school intake form asking if a child has a special health need, so that’s a start.
Liz asked how high-stakes testing will trickle down to the Pre-K kids, and the mayor’s answer was simple: “We don’t believe in high-stakes testing in the lower grades, and we’re not going to do it. The over-reliance on high-stakes testing has led us astray.”
Anna pointed out that there ARE empty seats in some existing PreK programs, and asked what would be done to support parents for whom 9-3 isn’t enough?
The mayor couldn’t really give an answer for this, but he did try to put it in some context: “Once upon a time, not that long ago, the fight was against child labor. We do have to recognize the historical arc here. As Chirlane points out, we’re still working on an agrarian calendar.” His point being that not everything can be achieved immediately.
De Blasio went on to add, “There’s been some self-congratulation in the last few years about the schools here. And I don’t buy into it. One of four graduates (not counting those who drop out) are college ready.” One in four.
“If we win the battle for pPe-K and after school here and now in NYC, all of the other doors start to open.”
He has a big job ahead of him. I’ve seen the pluses and minuses at my kids’ schools, and while our overall experience has been positive so far, in many ways it’s been in spite of everything happening at city hall, not because of it. For the first time, I feel like I have an ally in the Mayor’s Office. It feels good.
Mar 6, 2014 Blog & Social Media Stuff
If you’re a blogger, you’ve probably written about some kind of pop-culture news at some point and wanted a picture to go with it. If you had a big-ass lens, time to sit outside of a hotel in Hollywood, and no sense of shame, you could get your own picture. If you had a ton of extra money, you could buy the right to use an image from one of the big photo sites. If you had no sense of fairness, rules, or karma, you could just steal one.
But now, there’s another option, and it’s kind-of amazing. Getty Images is allowing many of its pictures to be embedded on blogs, for free. There’s also code to tweet the pictures, and embed them on tumblr (so far, nothing for facebook).
But of course, there’s a catch. Actually a couple.
The first is, I think, reasonable. From their TOS:
Getty Images (or third parties acting on its behalf) may collect data related to use of the Embedded Viewer and embedded Getty Images Content, and reserves the right to place advertisements in the Embedded Viewer or otherwise monetize its use without any compensation to you.
Once you embed their viewer they can basically use it however they want. They can put an ad in there, and you have no control over what they’re advertising, whether it’s guns or butter or porn. No control, and no compensation.
But hey, that sounds like a fair exchange for a picture of a celebrity.
The second catch, though, is the one that’s a bit more troubling:
Not all Getty Images Content will be available for embedded use, and availability may change without notice. Getty Images reserves the right in its sole discretion to remove Getty Images Content from the Embedded Viewer.
Basically, they can yank the pictures at any time, leaving you with a blank space where the picture used to be, and these words:
Image not found
This image is no longer available for use.
Find more images on gettyimages.com.
One day you could have a picture of Hugh Jackman staring out dreamily from your blog page, and the next day you could have blank space and a free ad for Getty Images.
The problem with embeddable viewers
I’ve mostly gotten away from using embeddable viewers because of this very problem: they go away. I used to use a similar kind of celebrity picture service that let you post the pictures in exchange for an ad running under the pictures. When that company went belly-up a bunch of my posts had broken links and weird formatting where pictures used to be. I also used to embed these really great slideshows, and then the company ceased to exist, and the slideshows didn’t work. I used to use a great plug-in for embedding twitter statuses before twitter provided embed codes. Yup, that one’s gone too. And I had to go in and fix every one of those posts. The ones that I found, anyway! Who knows how many messed-up posts are in my archives?
Other cons with this Getty service
Another downside: You can’t change the size of the photo. You need to buy a license for that. Also, you can’t crop it. Or photoshop yourself in.
And, so far I don’t see any way to filter out non-embeddable images when searching. You need to hover over each image and see if it has a symbol that looks like this: </> (no, the symbol does not yet appear on the search results page – you have to hover over or click on each image; I’m hoping that changes soon).
So, the bottom line is that using this service is a risk. I don’t think that Getty will just capriciously decide to remove certain pictures. I think a more likely scenario is that after a few months or years they will decide that their experiment didn’t work, and they’ll get rid of the embeddable player, and all embedded pictures will disappear.
Still, I don’t think that will stop me from using it. Because, I can now do this:
And as a blogger with almost no budget for photos, that makes me happy.
Mar 5, 2014 Paid/Sponsored Post
[I am a member of the Invisalign Moms Advisory Board and am receiving complimentary Invisalign treatment.]
At my last visit my orthodontist told me that I might almost be on my last Invisalign trays. I was shocked, since I thought I still had twelve sets of trays to go, but he ordered extra because he wanted options on where my teeth ended up. This is as much an art as a science, and he wants to get my bite just right!
And today’s visit confirmed that I will not be needing all of those trays: he gave me 23-26 and said that would be it!!! That cuts an entire 3 months off of my expected treatment time!
Seeing the journey my teeth have been on is amazing. The change was so gradual it’s hard for me to remember what they used to be like, so I like looking at this to remind myself:
Once I get to my last trays, I’m still not done, though. I’ll wear those trays full time (22 hours a day) for two months, to give my teeth a chance to heal in their new, final positions. Then I’ll wear them for 18 hours a day for a month, then 12 hours a day for a month.
After that, I’m technically done! But just like with braces, I still have to wear my trays at night, like a retainer. Dr. Hung said that I can use my last set of trays as long as they last, and then I can transition to a Vivera retainer, made by the same company that makes Invisalign.
So, home stretch! By October I’ll just be popping those trays in at night to maintain my beautiful new smile!
I am a member of the Invisalign Moms Advisory Board. I am receiving complimentary Invisalign treatment as part of this program. All opinions are my own and based on my own treatment experience. Full disclosure can be found here: http://shout.lt/ggGP
Mar 4, 2014 What's Going On
Yesterday I wrote down some thoughts about the Oscars. For the record, I thought the show was boring and not very funny. And there were several instances that had me shaking my head and wondering WTF just happened.
One of those was watching Kim Novak.
It looked like she had had so much work done on her face she could barely talk. Her lips were ridiculously plumped, her eyebrows were unnaturally high, and her cheekbones were in a really weird place. It looked like the top two-thirds of her face was a mask with eye holes cut out.
And for saying all of this on twitter and facebook and in my post, I got some hate mail.
(Which, BTW, I’m not going to respond directly to. I put my thoughts out there in public. If you want to discuss them with me, you can put yours out in public too, in the comments section. You even get to remain anonymous. But I’m not going to take the time to engage in that kind of back-and-forth over email.)
Obviously I wasn’t the only one who thought this – it was a hot topic during and after the Oscars. And there were some eloquent defenses of why someone might do that to her own face. This is a woman who was constantly belittled during her career and that had to have done some major damage to her sense of self-esteem.
But that’s exactly why these things need to pointed out, why we need to say that doing THAT to your face is ridiculous, and does not in any way make you look younger or better.
I have nothing against plastic surgery. Based on what’s going on with my own body after gaining and then losing a lot of weight, I’ll be surprised if I don’t end up getting some things nipped and tucked in the next few years. But there is something so wrong about trying to restore yourself to another era.
Aging happens to everybody. If you have amazing genes, you age fabulously. Most of us won’t be so lucky – life’s not always fair. And it must be one thousand times worse when looking good was a huge part of your job for decades.
But my goodness, how many women have to turn themselves into plastic freak shows before we all come to the conclusion that aging naturally looks better? I can’t remember ever thinking of an older actress “Wow, she looks old.” If she’s old, she’s supposed to look old. I have many times thought “Wow, she got fat” or “Ugh, I can’t believe she wore that!” But aging? That you have no control over.
There were some really great looking older women on that Oscar stage. Did some of them have work done? I have no idea. They looked good, but they looked their age. So if they got something nipped or tucked, good for them.
But there’s a line. A desperate, ambitious, sad line that you do not want to cross. And if the uproar over Kim Novak makes someone else think twice before trying to restore her face to the 1980s, then I don’t feel bad at all for throwing Kim Novak under the bus. She was standing in the middle of the road already.
Mar 3, 2014 What's Going On
The theme of last night’s Oscars was “WTF just happened?” They started out with promise. Ellen’s opening monologue was fantastic, and Pharrell’s performance of his song “Happy” was possibly the best, most fun Oscar performance ever. Lupita Nyong’o schooled everyone on how to give an Oscar acceptance speech (although, I started the skinny shimmery headband trend TWO DAYS before she did, so she’d better not try to claim it!). I was hopeful that it was going to be a great night. But it went slowly (and I do mean slowly) downhill from there.
Kim Novak came out to present, and it was a horror show. She looked like she was wearing a mask on the top half of her face.
WTF happened? I mean, compared to actresses like Sally Field, Glenn Close, and Bette Midler, who all came out looking older but like themselves, Kim looked like someone who is aging the opposite of gracefully. A little plastic surgery goes a long way, especially on the face. The thing is, twitter and facebook exploded with appreciation for the older actresses who either hadn’t had plastic surgery, or had done it so artfully that you couldn’t tell. I can’t wait until the money people catch up with the fact that the public doesn’t want to see plastic, stretched faces as women (and men!) get older. We want to see real people who can actually still act with their facial features.
Ellen did a couple of bits with pizza that just went on waaaaay too long. Eventually she had three pizzas delivered, and she brought them out to the first couple of rows. I was cringing as I thought of pizza grease dripping on all of those expensive dresses and tuxes! Most of the people involved seemed game, but my goodness, give them Saltines next time, or something else that won’t drip! Those people spent all day getting ready! (Well, the women anyway.) Save the pizza for 3am when they’re home and in sweats.
While introducing Idina Menzel to sing “Let It Go,” John Travolta butchered her name so badly it was really a totally different name. A name that immediately got a twitter handle with thousands of followers. Was there a problem with the teleprompter? Did he have a mini stroke? Was he stoned? Whatever it was, it bled over into Idina’s performance. And again, were there technical difficulties? It was not…great. She seemed to be fighting tears from the moment she started, and she swallowed a couple of words early on. Her mic hand was shaking a lot, and her big notes were somewhat painful. WTF. I don’t know if the name thing threw her off, or if there was more going on. This should have been one of the greatest moments of her life, but instead it was a bit of a disappointment. Hopefully most people will blame it on Adele Dazeem, whoever that is.
All in all, the telecast was long and underwhelming. But it was an honor just to be nomin- oh, right. It was just long and underwhelming.
Mar 2, 2014 Food
I used to live near a Ben & Jerry’s, and almost every time I went I’d get the Banana Fudge Royal. I haven’t been to a B&J’s in probably a decade, and I don’t know if the Banana Fudge Royal even exists any more, but last Wednesday I got a powerful craving for one. So powerful that over the course of the next 24 hours I gathered the ingredients:
- Ben & Jerry’s Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream
- Hot Fudge (NOT chocolate sauce!)
- Whipped Cream in a Can (no, you don’t want the real stuff)
- Ripe bananas
The ripe bananas were the problem: mine weren’t.
So I waited. And waited. And waited. This part couldn’t be rushed, because if the bananas weren’t ripe, they would ruin the entire dish.
This morning I made a fruit salad with breakfast, and tried a banana. Ready!!!
Making this sundae takes about 90 seconds. Start with the ice cream. Slice the bananas over it. Warm up the hot fudge in the microwave and pour over. Top with a generous spray of whipped cream. Done!
The original might have had nuts, but I don’t remember because if it did, I definitely got it without. So add nuts if you must, but know that that version is not Amy-approved.
When my husband saw me pull the Peanut Butter Cup ice cream out of the back of the freezer, he said “Hey! I didn’t know we had that!” EXACTLY. If he had, there wouldn’t have been any left by the time the bananas were ripe. I don’t mess around.
Fiona came downstairs JUST as I was about to take my first bite, the bite I’d been waiting for since Wednesday, and she wanted her own. I did NOT want her touching my $11 jar of small-batch, hand-made hot fudge – she needed me to heat that up. So I was very clear: Do not talk to me for ten minutes. Do not ask me for a bite of my sundae. Do not ask me for anything. Let me enjoy my dessert in peace. And after ten minutes, you can make your own.
She knew I was serious. She set a timer. She stayed absolutely quiet.
And then she made her own, with me microwaving her a SMALL amount of my hot fudge (I need to buy my family the cheap stuff – they don’t deserve the good stuff!).
If you like peanut butter and bananas (which I could probably live on), you will love this sundae.
Feb 28, 2014 Running
Last weekend I completed the Glass Slipper Challenge at Disney World: a 10K race Saturday morning, and a half marathon on Sunday.
I am the world’s least likely runner. For one thing, I have a deep and meaningful relationship with my couch. To call me a couch potato doesn’t scratch the surface. If there were an Olympic Sitting-On-Your-Ass event I would be the all-time gold medal record holder with my face on a Wheaties box.
Also, I get beet red in the face when I exercise (look at that picture up there: see how red my face is? I’d been done running for about half an hour at that point!). Don’t worry, I’m not on the verge of a heart attack. This used to happen when I was thin and fit and young. It’s just what my face does when my heart rate goes up. It’s SO attractive.
I hate the outdoors. I hate wind, bugs, sun in my eyes, and dodging poop on the sidewalk. So I got a treadmill and pointed it at a TV, but that’s even worse. Running on a treadmill is BORING! And I keep signing up for winter races. Even though the actual races are in Florida, the training is here in Brooklyn, during the coldest months of the year.
To top it all off, my right leg is longer than my left. This means three things: 1) long, flowy dresses hang on me funny, 2) I have to get EVERY pair of pants I buy hemmed (at least one leg), and 3) when I put in a lot of miles my right hip hurts like a mofo.
And yet, for the past five years or so, I’ve been running. Just a little at first, signing up for races and then not training and struggling through them, but finishing – always finishing. I’m stubborn that way.
But I’ve been getting more consistent. Last Sunday was my fourth Disney Princess Half Marathon and I’m happy to say that I did about half of the training runs I was supposed to leading up to race weekend!
Why am I patting myself on the back for doing only half? Because that’s the most I’ve done so far before a half marathon – AND I made sure to get in almost all of my long runs. For me, this was huge. Think of what I could do if I did 3/4 of my training runs, or even – gasp – all of them! I’m working on it…
So, if I hate getting off of my couch, hate training indoors, hate training outdoors, and have a body made for swimming much more than anything upright, why do I run?
Because I love the feeling I get when I’m finished.
I love what it does to my body. I feel stronger.
I love the ease of putting on sneakers, grabbing my keys and phone, and heading out the door.
I love being able to run for the subway and actually catch it, without being out of breath.
And, I admit it, I love saying “Oh, I can’t that weekend, I have a race.” Or “Yeah, I’ve done four half marathons.” Or “Oh wow, I need to get a new rack for my medals, that one’s SO FULL!” Yup, there’s a lot of bragging involved.
I’m not sure why I even refer to these as races. For me it’s always about finishing, and about how much of the race I can actually run. My first half marathon, I walked about 2/3 of it. By my fourth, I ran 8.1 out of the 13.1 miles. I can run a 5K or 10K no problem (I’m slow as molasses, but I’m running, dammit). It took me years to work up to that point, but I’m there, and it feels great.
I do envy people who actually love running. I’ve heard about this “runner’s high” but so far, it hasn’t happened to me. Maybe I’ll get there some day, but right now the high is when the run is over.
For now, I’m content to plod along the streets of Brooklyn, thinking about the next race, the next medal, the next milestone to brag about.
Feb 27, 2014 Contest/Giveaway, Paid/Sponsored Post
[This post is sponsored. I received product from HERSHEY’S and payment from Global Influence in exchange for writing this post.]
Easter for me is all about the candy. When I was little my grandmother would hide Easter baskets and send me and my sisters on a hunt to find them (actually, I think my sisters and I would hide them for each other, but I’m going to give my grandmother the credit since she’s no longer around to defend herself).
I do this for my kids, and have almost as much fun making the Easter baskets as they have digging into them.
Sure, sometimes I get it together enough to do something crafty, and the Celebrate With Hershey’s website even has some crafts that I think I could do (this one especially – I need some spring in my house!). But the chocolate comes first – it’s the focus.
HERSHEY’S sent me a huge assortment of their Easter candies so that I could make something yummy, and I really wanted to use the CADBURY MINI EGGS, because they’re my favorite. The beauty of the recipe I came up with is that you could really use just about any Easter chocolate you wanted to. Jake suggested the ROLO candy, which I think would go really well with this recipe.
In theory, you could even use this as a way to get rid of leftover Easter chocolate, but in reality I would never have any leftover CADBURY MINI EGGS, so it’s good that I’m trying this now, with more than a month to go before Easter.
CADBURY MINI EGGS Blondies
1/2 to 1 cup CADBURY MINI EGGS
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 whole egg and one egg yolk, beaten
180 grams all-purpose flour (about 1 1/2 cups)
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Grease bottom only of 8” X 8” or 9” X 9” square pan, or use parchment paper
Put CADBURY MINI EGGS in a small plastic bag and pound with a mallet or hammer until all MINI EGGS are at least halved – you want to leave a lot of big pieces, not totally crush them; set aside
In a medium bowl combine melted butter, brown sugar, and vanilla extract and stir until thoroughly mixed; add beaten eggs and stir again until combined; set aside
In a small bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt
Add flour mixture to butter mixture slowly, about 1/3 at a time, stirring just to combine
Stir in crushed MINI EGGS
Pour mixture into prepared pan and spread to edges (if you’re using parchment paper you’ll have to hold down a corner so that it doesn’t move); don’t worry if you can’t get it exactly to the edges, it will spread out in the oven
Bake in preheated oven for 35-40 minutes, until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean
Place pan on a rack and cool completely before cutting
Store after cooling in an airtight container
One of my lucky readers is going to get their very own prize pack featuring an assortment of HERSHEY’S Easter candy!
Entering is easy: just leave a comment on this post telling me 1) what your favorite Easter tradition is with your own family, AND 2) what your favorite craft or recipe is from the Celebrate With Hershey’s site. You must leave a complete comment in order to be entered.
The giveaway is open to US Residents 18 years of age or older. Void where prohibited by law.
The giveaway ends at noon-ish on Wednesday, March 12th, 2014 and the winner will be chosen approximately 24 hours later. The winner will be chosen by random.org. The winner will be emailed and the winner’s name will be posted at the top of this post once the winner is verified. It is each entrant’s responsibility to make sure that her entry appears in the comment section, and to contact me before the drawing if there is a problem. Entries that do not follow the rules stated in this post will not be approved. See my complete Giveaway Rules page for more information.
Prize fulfillment will be carried out by The Hershey Company.
You can follow along on social media with the #BunnyTrail hashtag, and don’t forget to check out Celebrate With Hershey’s for lots of great chocolate celebration ideas!