oh blog...

Oh blog, you are so neglected.

I'm struggling these days to find the motivation to write here. More often than not I use the few minutes of time to myself to curl up and read instead of spend time on the computer. Maybe it's the gray, rainy weather. Maybe it's that feeling that you put something like a blog post out into the world and it just sits there. Sometimes a little satisfaction comes with an acknowledgement from a friend "I loved that post" or "I bought that because I saw it on your blog!" Other times I feel like a neglectful parent, ignoring the blog and feeling the wonder of my family and friends: "why isn't she posting?"

I was thinking about all this today as I was driving home from an outing. I was thinking about what to post next but also pondering the New York Times' 100 Notable Books of 2012 list. Of the 100 books listed I've read all of half of 1 book. Half of 1 book out of 100. And I call myself a reader?! Yikes. How many have you read?

These days I am gravitating more towards mysteries than literary fiction. The fast-paced action moves me through a book at a quicker clip than plodding emotionalism, experimental plot devices, and over-done descriptions. Years ago, when I only read literary fiction, my friend Melissa would expound on the greatness of a well-written police procedural. I didn't understand at the time. But I do now.

This is all to say that I hope to be a better blogger and a faster reader (so many books so little time, right?).  Because, really, this nightstand book situation is getting a little out of control:

This nightstand book situation is getting a little out of control.



The Family Pants
Getting our fix at Happy Coffee
Well hello there! Did you have a nice week? We spent Thanksgiving and this past weekend in Denver with Jordan's family. It was lovely to get away, catch up, eat good food, see friends, and explore the city.


new cookbooks

I'm so excited to test out the three cookbooks I got for my birthday.

From my Mom & Dad:

Because I love the blog... The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.
Because my friend Andie made me a dish from this that was super delish.

And from Melissa:
Because Melissa is my canning guru, and apparently Marisa McClellan is her canning guru. 
Any cookbooks you are loving at the moment? Please share! I'm always looking for new inspiration in the kitchen.

maps of the 2012 US presidential election results

This is fascinating...
Most of us are, by now, familiar with the maps the TV channels and web sites use to show the results of presidential elections. Here is a typical map of the results of the 2012 election:

The states are colored red or blue to indicate whether a majority of their voters voted for the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, or the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama, respectively. Looking at this map it gives the impression that the Republican won the election handily, since there is rather more red on the map than there is blue. In fact, however, the reverse is true – it was the Democrats who won the election. The explanation for this apparent paradox, as pointed out by many people, is that the map fails to take account of the population distribution. It fails to allow for the fact that the population of the red states is on average significantly lower than that of the blue ones. The blue may be small in area, but they represent a large number of voters, which is what matters in an election.
We can correct for this by making use of a cartogram, a map in which the sizes of states are rescaled according to their population. That is, states are drawn with size proportional not to their acreage but to the number of their inhabitants, states with more people appearing larger than states with fewer, regardless of their actual area on the ground. On such a map, for example, the state of Rhode Island, with its 1.1 million inhabitants, would appear about twice the size of Wyoming, which has half a million, even though Wyoming has 60 times the acreage of Rhode Island.
Here are the 2012 presidential election results on a population cartogram of this type:
As you can see, the states have been stretched and squashed, some of them substantially, to give them the appropriate sizes, though it's done in such a way as to preserve the general appearance of the map, so far as that's possible. On this map there is now clearly more blue than red.
The presidential election, however, is not actually decided on the basis of the number of people who vote for each candidate but on the basis of the electoral college. Under the US electoral system, each state in the union contributes a certain number of electors to the electoral college, who vote according to the majority in their state. (Exceptions are the states of Maine and Nebraska, which use a different formula that allows them to split their electoral votes between candidates.) The candidate receiving a majority of the votes in the electoral college wins the election. The electors are apportioned among the states roughly according to population, as measured by the census, but with a small but deliberate bias in favor of less populous states.
We can represent the effects of the electoral college by scaling the sizes of states to be proportional to their number of electoral votes, which gives a map that looks like this:

[Mark Newman, Department of Physics and Center for the Study of Complex Systems, University of Michigan]

Read more and see more maps here...


a very merry birthday weekend

I took a brief post-election (yay!), pre-birthday blog hiatus last week. It was a nice, much needed reprieve. My Mom arrived midweek. We went fabric shopping (I'm going to make Stella a Christmas stocking), she accompanied us to Stella's music class, she made us amazing dinners... what a treat! On Saturday night my parents took Stella so that J and I could celebrate my birthday together in the city. We booked ourselves into Hotel Vitale and ate a late dinner at Slanted Door (always a favorite). On Sunday, my parents and Stella met us for coffee and book browsing and brunch at the Ferry Building before venturing over to the California Academy of Sciences. Here's to being 34...
Happy early birthday present to me!
Happy birthday to ME! I treated myself to this Skinny laMinx bag.
Good morning 34! #birthday
Good morning San Francisco
Butterfly gazing
Butterfly gazing
Looking at fishes
Fish gazing
 Did you have a good weekend?



on raising a prodigy

This article in the NYT by Andrew Solomon called "How Do You Raise A Prodigy?" struck a chord (sorry, the pun came too easy). 

I started playing the cello when I was 4 1/2. I wasn't a bad musician, but I was far from a prodigy. A little musical ability and no desire to practice long hours everyday didn't get me very far, but I continued taking lessons through high school, attended a highly regarded youth orchestra every week, went to cello and chamber music summer camps (nerd alert), and won a little scholarship in college so that I could continue taking lessons. 

But back to this idea of raising a prodigy... There was a girl prodigy (if not a prodigy then uber talented) who studied cello with my teacher. She started a few years after me, and was two years younger. By the time she was eight she was playing, beautifully, Saint-Saëns' Cello Concerto No. 1 (here's Jackie duPre playing it), a piece I didn't play until my last year in high school. It was always with awe and a little fear that would watch her play in recitals. In high school, she sat first chair in our orchestra and performed the Elgar Cello Concerto (here's Yo-Yo Ma playing it with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in '97) in a solo concert backed by our orchestra. She played Haydn flawlessly for Yo-Yo Ma in a masterclass and after she was finished he said, "so, what are you doing tonight?" A joke, of course, that she could take his place in the concert he was playing that evening. I know this because the exchange was written up in the Los Angeles Times. She was that good. 

But she also practiced 5+ hours a day. She woke up early so that she could get two solid hours in before school, and then came home to a few more. Her mother would bribe her to practice with the promise of new clothes. If she won a competition she would get a new car, etc. I don't know if she still plays the cello. We lost touch when I went off to college. The last I heard she's quit playing, she'd burned-out.

I don't know if there's a good or right way to raise a prodigy. But I can't help but nod with Andrew Solomon when he finishes the article with this:
"Half the prodigies I studied seemed to be under pressure to be even more astonishing than they naturally were, and the other half, to be more ordinary than their talents. Studying their families, I gradually recognized that all parenting is guesswork, and that difference of any kind, positive or negative, makes the guessing harder. That insight has largely shaped me as a father. I don’t think I would love my children more if they could play Rachmaninoff’s Third, and I hope I wouldn’t love them less for having that consuming skill, any more than I would if they were affected with a chronic illness. But I am frankly relieved that so far, they show no such uncanny aptitude."
[Photo illustration by Peter Yang for The New York Times]