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From Aspen to Ann Arbor...Thanksgiving

November 23, 2010

Aaah.....Thanksgiving.  A day to reflect on the many blessings life has given us:  family, friends and French's Fried Onions.  And what better way to observe the original American holiday than...canoeing in the Everglades?

At least that's what my sister thinks.

At a recent gathering I heard about ski trips to Aspen and weekends in Paris, but few if any were planning Thanksgiving dinner with family in Washington.  I guess that's because so many people who live here aren't "from" here (myself included).

Growing up in New England, my Thanksgivings consisted of going to Grandma's house where we started the festivities by watching the Macy's parade on television. At dinner, ten or twelve adults were seated around the dining room table and an equal number of children were sitting in the kitchen and all were enjoying a giant turkey feast topped off with lots of commotion, dessert and uncles watching the football game. It was all pretty Norman Rockwell (at least from my kids' table POV).

Nowadays, our family is scattered from California and Michigan to Ohio, Massachusetts, Maryland and Florida.

My husband and I decided to do something different this year and have planned a good old fashioned, fun-filled, family road trip with our two boys for Thanksgiving. We'll be loading up the car with gifts and games (as well as a few bottles of wine) and stopping in on relatives on our way to the Great Lakes region to share Thanksgiving dinner with a branch of our family in the freezing cold.

While we will be going over the river and through the woods, it's not to Grandmother's house we go this time, but I'm looking forward to playing Punchbuggy and the license plate game with my kids and staring out the window for a while.  I think it's going to be a great Thanksgiving and if it's not exactly Rockwell-ian, maybe it will be one that my boys look back fondly on some day.

At least there won't be any alligators.

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Fashion helps Flood Victims at Pakistan Embassy

November 19, 2010

A downpour may have dampened the coiffes and chic ensembles dashing toward the residence of the Pakistani Ambassador near Dupont Circle to launch Fashion for Pakistan Flood Relief. But it was barely noticeable compared to the deluge the Pakistanis have been through.

Organized by Georgetown resident Shannon Grewer after she witnessed devastation firsthand after floods swallowed up entire cities last summer, the event was designed to help victims, raise awareness, and bring people together.

Over seven million people in Pakistan are currently without adequate shelter or food and large parts of the country are still submerged underwater.  Through a newly created program, the private sector in Pakistan and the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs will coordinate funds to rebuild homes and provide basic agricultural supplies to displaced people. "We created Fashion for Pakistan Flood Relief to increase awareness in the US of the conditions in the flood-affected areas of Pakistan.  By combining fashion with philanthropy we hope to share with you a different image of Pakistan."
Ms. Farahnaz Ispahani, wife of the Ambassador and a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan greeted guests at the top of the stairs wearing one of the beautiful creations of the Pakistani designer Deepak Perwani and ushered them into the tent covering the garden. 
Ambassador Husain Haqqani pointed out that most disasters aren't covered by Anderson Cooper and CNN -- and Pakistan's current crisis is one of those disasters.  As a result, most Americans are not aware of the extent of the devastation in Pakistan.  The Ambassador then introduced the designer Deepak Perwani, who emphasized that Pakistan has much more culture to offer than many of us are aware of (including beautiful fashion).  A slide show of intensely moving photos followed the comments and spotlighted the many faces of the flood victims.

The red carpet, which had only hours before been mislaid at Dulles airport and rescued by Shannon's resourceful husband Jether Grewer moments before it was rolled out, then became the scene of the beautiful, flowing and fantastically colored and bejeweled dresses and tunics that the designer had brought from Pakistan for the occasion and soon to be available in this country.  As one model after another strolled the carpet, the audience was captivated by the stunning beauty and unique nature of the designs.

After the fashion show concluded the men retired to the cigar lounge and the women stormed the table where the tunics designed expressly for the event were for sale.  What started as an organized table with neatly stacked piles of brightly colored tunics soon resembled the bargain bin at Filene's Basement as the corner of the room became an impromptu Loehman's dressing room and women tried the well-priced tunics on over their party dresses.  The designer's staff dug valiantly through the piles for specific sizes and hurried back and forth replenishing the supply, which went quickly.
For more information on programs to aid flood victims visit  http://mjsf.net/floodrelief.php  or  www.fashionforpakistan.com.

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"It's Perfectly Normal" Took Unusual Perseverance

November 16, 2010

Monday night I attended a reception for the children's author Robie Harris, held at the home of friends in Georgetown.  The invitation listed the titles of three of Harris' "best-selling and award-winning" books and promised comments from Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America about how to talk to young children about sex.  Most people associate NARAL with abortion rights so the connection to children's health was not immediately obvious. I was intrigued and curious.

Since I didn't know much about Ms. Harris, I looked up her books online before the party and found that she also has recently become something of a talking head on the subject of banned books, particularly children's titles,  a subject that as a writer is close to my heart.

The reception, which was mostly women, began after pleasant mingling and discussion of Thanksgiving plans.  Nancy Keenan briefly discussed the mission of NARAL and their  position that sex education should be offered in schools, both public and private.  Relating a poignant example of a young teen who didn't understand the lifelong consequences of the sexually transmitted disease she had contracted, Ms. Keenan had my attention.  Stressing the importance of pertinent information for children and teens to ensure their ongoing physical and emotional well-being she then introduced Robie Harris. The author, a grandmother from Cambridge, Massachusetts, explained how she "fell into" writing books that explain in words and pictures the cycle of life (including babies) to small children and the changes of puberty and sexuality to older ones.

As an already established children's writer in the 1980s, Ms. Harris was approached with the idea of writing a book for teens about the emerging problem of HIV/AIDS.  At that time she decided she couldn't write a book about AIDS without covering the other obvious health and sexual topics related to it and proceeded to research her book with some of the top-rated scientists, physicians and psychologists in the country.

Harris then went on to recount how several publishers enthusiastically received her book initially, but later asked her to remove or tone down certain sections, which she refused to do.  Eventually she came to Candlewick Press, a children's book publisher in the Boston area, that agreed to publish her book in its entirety.  After "It's Perfectly Normal" was published, Harris and her publisher found themselves defending the book from challenges in public libraries and the threatened removal of the book from school libraries.  There were protests and media attention and the book was frequently stolen from public libraries only to be replaced time and again by library supporters and private donors.   Harris professed much admiration for librarians in general including one who told her she wouldn't keep the book in her own home, but felt it was her job to keep it available at the library. In the meantime, along with her other children's story books, Harris worked on the two follow up volumes to "It's Perfectly Normal" (which is designed for teens and pre-teens 10 and older) titled "It's so amazing" (aimed at ages 7 and up) and "It's not the Stork" (for 4- to 6-year-olds).

Ms. Harris fielded a few questions and also talked with parents as she signed copies of her books to their children and recommended which book might be more appropriate depending on the age of the child in question.  She suggested reading parts of the book to your child until you see her "glaze over" or "dipping in" to a section to address a specific question.

While Ms. Harris skillfully skirted any political comments, she made her position on sex education for kids and teens very plain.  As her website will tell you, she and her illustrator Michael Emberley  "believe that our kids, preteens, and teens need and have a right to have the most up-to-date and accurate science facts about reproduction, puberty, and sexual health."  She also noted that although you may not agree that all parts of her books are appropriate for your child, you can always "skip" the parts you aren't comfortable with or ask another family member, clergy or pediatrician, etc. to explain something to your child.  The main message she seems to be delivering is: explain the facts and don't hope that your child is getting them somewhere else (such as school), because they may not be or they may be wrong.

Recently Robie Harris' books on sexual health were given a big thumbs up over similar books in the field by New Yorker writer Jill Lepore in an article titled "Too Much Information" (Oct. 18, 2010).  Lepore called Harris' books the "best of the batch" and noted that they "have an endearing and companionable matter-of-factness," are "genuinely sweet," and the illustrations are "honest and tender."

So far, my two boys have only asked me the most general of questions about the beginnings of life and the differences between boys and girls, but since I won't have the reassuring and practical advice of Robie Harris in person, I plan to keep a few of her books close at hand for when I need a review of the facts.

For more information: visit Robie Harris' website and that of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

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