I am a pretty unreliable clipping service, since my attention to the newspaper and other periodicals, both real and virtual, even in my topics of choice, is pretty haphazard. But a few of my customarily cursory glances in recent days have yielded a Thread.  I read Elizabeth Kolbert's article in the New Yorker, "Spoiled Rotten," about poorly-brought-up American children, then I happened across two pieces in the New York Times: "Is The Family Dinner Overrated?" and "Are Family Vacations Worth It?," the latter aiming to settle once and for all whether parents should "soldier forth and try to create those irreplaceable family memories...[o]r take a real break by zipping off without the kids."
Without question, the article attempting to debunk the notion that regularly sitting down to dinner together will have a long-lasting positive effect on your children was the one that got my goat most emphatically. That's hitting me right where I live, my friend.
Using hard science and real data, the researchers examined this previously-established "fact" that dining together correlates with long-term happiness, success and other fantasies of the harried parent.  Turns out it's a little more equivocal than we've been told.  We can thank these investigative hard-hitters for unearthing the real deal: it turns out that OTHER STUFF ALSO MATTERS.  I am paraphrasing here, but just to save you the trouble of reading the whole article.  If you never let your children out of the basement or speak kindly to them, but sit down to dinner together every night: NOT SO GOOD.  Don't count on the kiddos avoiding a life of crime. If you sit down to dinner together on a regular basis, probably that is not the only thing going right: THE DINNER ALONE MAY NOT BE THE DETERMINING FACTOR. And there is no guarantee, even when you adjust for all of the other variables, that they will move on from your table to the pinnacle of achievement in all regards later in life.  So, they conclude, if the family dinner eludes you, don't stress out.  Their advice?  "Just find another way to connect to your kids." That is actually the last line of the article.


Sigh.  I won't bother you with a long, snarky summation of the vacation discussion, except to say that it's equally dense (not with meaning.)  You should spend time alone as a couple and you should do nice stuff that is not necessarily in a theme park with your children.  You could, for example, choose a motel with a large pool.  Children like those (they did a study).  Pardon me a moment while I up my subscription so I never miss an issue. Did I say I was going to keep this part brief?  OK, in that case, I will just say how alarming it was to see no mention AT ALL of single parents--not ones that head families alone, nor the individuals that make up couples--in the six experts' testimonies.  Couples vs. children all the way.  Whose Interests Will Prevail? As Elizabeth Kolbert points out, we are kind of coming at this from the wrong angle, with predictably poor outcomes for the children and lots of inane reading for the parents to slog through:
from the 7/2/12 New York Times
Let me just wipe the froth from my lips and the lather from my chin and I'll bring this around to something edible.  Something refreshing.  Pour a glass for yourself, to restore you after the cares of the day are done with.  Pour it for your loved ones, to reconnect if you've been apart.  Just please don't do a study on its effects.  Take my empirical word for it: it's tasty.
apricot-basil cooler
5 or 6 apricots, and if you can get hold of some of the red velvet variety, consider the day well spent
1/2 cup of honey
1/2 cup of sugar
4 c water
a handful of fresh basil (using the leaves is nice, but stems left over from using the leaves for another purpose work just as well)
ice and limes and sparkling water, to serve
Halve the apricots.  Admire them. Now combine them with the honey and sugar in a large saucepan.  (If you can let the apricot mixture sit a few minutes, all to the good.  If not, do not fret.)  Add the water and bring the mixture to a boil; reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the apricots look spent, about 5 minutes.  
Remove from the heat, toss in the basil and submerge it, and cover the pot.  After 5 minutes or so, pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer, and serve this ambrosial juice you've just concocted in less than 15 minutes over lots of ice with plenty of lime and sparkling water.  It's very concentrated and will serve you for days to come.  I consider the basil-scented apricots in the strainer to be the privilege of the cook, but I have been known to spoil a nearby child rotten by handing them out, as well. We enjoy them together and talk about crimes and tour packages.