Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Making Storm Clean Up Fun

A human faerie house....

Suspicious Coincidence?

Is it just me or is it highly suspect that Tea Partiers and conservative Republicans, the vast majority of whom live in Southern or Midwestern states, are calling for a change in federal disaster relief and tying it to other federal budget cuts just when the disaster hits the despised Northeastern (and often more heavily Democrat) states the hardest??

Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get us.

I just don't think Cantor would be pulling this shit if it were Georgia or Mississippi or Texas that were ravaged instead of Vermont, New York, and New Jersey.

Happy Birthday, Pop!

Hope you have a great day and a wonderful year! We love you very much!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Rock On!

Mama Teacher and CJ came for a visit today, a spur-of-the-moment playdate on what should have been the first day of school. And the three kids had a dance party, with CJ yelling, "Rock on!" and playing air guitar. Then he requested AC/DC! So Bud put on . . . "Shakalaka Baby" from the Broadway musical, Bombay Dreams. Yeah, we don't have much rock-n-roll here. But it's kinda embarrassing that he merely equated it with a fast beat. We'll have to work on that (not that I'm an expert--I can't name a single AC/DC song! I was an 80s pop gal.). So I got him to put on "Dynamite" which had them all moving, as did Rent's "Today for You." CJ invented a new move, what we called "the angel" because it looked like he was making snow angels on the ground. Then Sis started rolling around in a tucked position--"the snowball!" Rock on, dancing fiends!

School's Out!!!!

Yep, it's out before it's even in!!

Classes have been delayed a full week because of Hurricane Irene, until after Labor Day.

Sis and Bud are thrilled--an extra week of summer is like an early Christmas present to them.

Are first graders supposed to be that jaded about school already??!!

But at least we know. Canceling class day by day was stressing us all out.

Now we'll have time to squeeze in all the activities we didn't do because we were preparing for and living through a hurricane.

Scrappy Kids

Perhaps I should say "scrapping." Because the family has a new activity: scrapbooking!

Mama is actually the force behind this, my having abandoned scrapbooking our lives a few years back when overwhelmed with the paper detritus I was saving but never getting to. She had come across two scrapbooks we made of our swazus from Chicago--to Door County and the Lighthouse Walk, to the Indigo Girls at Ravinia, to Galena, to Michigan City Light, and more--and we enjoyed looking at them.

And so, in advance of our NYC mini-vacation, we all went to the craft store and bought a scrapbook, a few packs of NYC stickers, some colored stock paper, and some double-sided tape. While in NYC, we all were on the lookout for pamphlets, postcards, menus, and other material we could use, coming home with a fair bagful of things.

Yesterday, we spread all the material out, clipped and cut, sorted and selected, and finally laid out all the special pieces to work on the layout. We chose to do the Harry Potter exhibition pages first, using the red and yellow of Gryffindor as our paper. We included our family photo in front of Hogwarts, pamphlet photos, illustrations cut out from the shop bag, a postcard, and some Hogwarts stickers they sold in the shop, with everyone taking a turn taping stuff down and distributing stickers. It looks really good. Mama's going to write a blurb documenting the experience from each family member in the spaces.

We'll do the rest of the NYC pages another day. And even more after our next interesting activity.

Though, Bud said we should "scrap" our perfect potholder in memory of the hurricane! But I have it hanging on the kitchen wall.

From Irene: Lessons Learned

I'm wrapping up my live blogging on the hurricane now that our lives have mostly returned to pre-hurricane activity. However, I hold all those still suffering and struggling with the effects of the storm in my heart, especially those upstate New Yorkers and Vermonters who were hit so hard (like my blog friend Karen).

Still, I want to summarize some of the practical and philosophical lessons learned this weekend:
  • Top 5 Things We Were Glad We Had: flashlights, corded phone, water, wipes/sanitizing gel, something new and distracting for the kids to do (weaving potholders! Legos!).
  • Plus: we realized that the best food to have on hand was bread, with honey, nutella, pb & j, the cheese before it went bad. We could have lasted a long time with just a few loaves of bread.
  • Back to that "old-fashioned" phone which fascinated the kids with its cord and lack of "speaker" function. It was funny to hold a cradle phone and walk around with a cord winding around my feet. Took me back to 8th grade, when I spent a lot of time on the phone. Except back then, I didn't forget what that little switch on the cradle meant and toggle it when I talked. I accidentally hung up on Gommie!
  • I was again reminded of the importance of friends and neighbors for help, information, a sense of safety in that we knew they would come to our aid if we needed it. And vice versa, of course, which is also a good feeling to know that you can help others.
  • But I also realized how isolated you can feel cut off from the larger world. We are usually so interconnected via technology. It felt strange and small to just be us in our house. I relied on neighbors (and their rumors) for information about our town and only got information about the whole effect of the storm from Gommie and Pop who were watching it in Texas (thanks to technology, of course). Oddly, I was a bit sad when power came back on. And I think I liked the closeness we had, the togetherness. Not that we aren't usually pretty cohesive, but this was different, special. However, I'll see if we can repeat it without a major natural disaster. (Also, it was very strange to plug back in and see the world had gone on without us and our hurricane. We were so absorbed in it that it was odd suddenly to see that life continued along outside of Irene.)
  • I think it was important for the kids to have the "hurricane experience," in a way. Not because the hurricane itself is so important but knowing they can endure and survive something unexpected and challenging, something outside their control, and adapt, gives them confidence, allays fears, provides a sense of empathy for the hardships that much of the world experiences. Blizzards are different--less immediately frightening and threatening, fun in their way, pretty even, and usually not nearly as devastating or tragic.
  • Being over-prepared gave me confidence during the storm (and that confidence allowed me to stay calm). In fact, I wouldn't say we were over-prepared, in that we needed almost everything we prepped, from water to non-perishable foods to batteries. We didn't need our "to-go" bag or valuables or, thankfully, first aid kit, but I don't regret organizing them.
  • Speaking of valuables, it's interesting to do that walk-through of your house and actually pull out what you'd want to save. We had Bud's kung fu trophy and medals, Sis's medals, their special critters (Mr. Big, Amy, and Shirt), their baby books, my baby book, some pre-digital pictures of me and Mama in our pre-parent days, Morgan's ashes, our civil union photo (which I like better than our wedding photo), Mama's photos of her parents' wedding, the "first year" frames of both kiddos, my keepsake recipe binder of handprinted family recipes, Mama's childhood stuffed animals, my Amish doll, my treasure box (with their hospital caps, my mosaic fragment, and other little things), and our computers and harddrives. What a strange mix.
  • Usually, Mama Hungry and I do our best to optimize and maximize every situation, to make it the best we can, to get the most out of it, to be prepared, organized, and efficient (okay, in everything but the organization of our house, but more on that later). And we did that in our preparations, but otherwise, we just had to take the storm as it came and make do; we weren't in control (though, I know we never really are in control, really, but usually the facade of control is there). It was an interesting situation. Though, I suppose, in many ways, we still tried to make the most of the experience, in the sense of using it as a teachable moment about weather, disasters, history, as well as quality family time. Except we never did grill--just too tired. I'll have to ponder our need for optimization further.
  • My childhood memories of storms and nightmares since then are very powerful. I remembered that funny butterflies-in-my-stomach feeling when the storm comes in, the excitement of being without power (I liked it as a kid, well, once the actual storm was over), the scary howl of wind that shakes the house, bends the trees, and makes unseen crashing sounds around you, even the hurricane parties of my parents repeated by my neighbors. I never thought I'd go through that again, but it was actually okay. (Now earthquakes are a totally different story . . . .)
  • I learned some practical things about food: apparently, most things in the fridge aren't good after 4-6 hours, especially the milk products and cooked foods, if the fridge reaches over 40F, but uncut fruits and vegetables, as well as hard cheeses, are usually okay, as are condiments with vinegar--but not mayonnaise!--and jams/jellies with sugar; also, things in the freezer last 24-48 hours depending on how full the freezer is (the fuller the better, which is why it's good to fill the freezer with bags of water/ice before the storm hits) and the food is good if ice crystals are still visible and thawing hasn't occurred. When in doubt, though, throw it out!
  • Note: apparently, if you don't have flashlights, solar-powered yard lamps work. And so they were selling out fast at Home Depot before the storm.
  • Finally, I was grateful that we have the resources to make it through a storm, the money and the flexibility from work to buy and do what we need to. I can clearly see how class lines determine a person's experience of (and even survival of) a storm, having, of course, witnessed such a thing with Hurricane Katrina but now also living it. I recognize our privilege, as I've discussed before, but I saw it even more this weekend.
In the end, though, I'm glad it's over.

Monday, August 29, 2011

From Irene: We'll Leave the Light on for You!

Because we got power back about an hour ago!

And how did we celebrate? By going outside! Where Bud did cartwheels and Sis ran obstacle courses.

Funny, in a weird way, I'm sorry our little break from the normal, plugged-in world is over. But only sorta.....

From Irene: The Perfect Potholder

I see it as a reassuring symbol of our family and how we both literally and figuratively weather storms together.


From Irene: Thank You

To Mama Teacher, for the warm shower, cold drink, and cell phone charge (we still don't have power--up to 7-10 days, though the water is okay now, just not heated);

To friends in town, for keeping me updated on town damage, school cancellations, and also offers of help (we'll be at your house tomorrow!);

To Gommie and Pop, Ma and Gong, Goo, and Cousin Susan for emailing and/or calling to check on us.

We are so grateful for your care and help!

From Irene: Spoiled

We've been almost 24 hours without power, which means we're grilling today! And then tossing the contents of our fridge.

Also still no use of the tap.

And probably delays of the first day of school.

Bud says, "Hurricanes are terrifying.". He changed his mind to "terrible."

He's right on both counts, of course, but not so much in our case.

But now they're playing, so everything is fine again.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

From Irene: It's Not Over Yet

The wind picked up in gusts so the kids are camping out downstairs again.

We might not have power for 7-10 days.

And now we don't have water, at least we're not supposed to use the tap. Thankfully, we have bathtubs, buckets, and gallons of it.

It feels almost like fall with the windows open.

Gotta keep looking on the bright side. It could have been terrible.

Goodnight, Irene

The storm is over, with a cool breeze gently blowing.  The overcast sky doesn't reveal dusk but light is fading as the kids rush to finish the Hogwarts Express Lego.  They built it while munching on Jelly Bellies, a.k.a. Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans.  Bud liked most of them, except licorice; Sis did not, even the chocolate one.  My neighbors, celebrating the end of the storm with pitchers of margaritas, have finally retired, after giving me some mostly encouraging updates from town.  Mama and I ate pb&j for dinner (and felt like kids again!), while the kids had fruit salad, neither of which evoked the life in "olden days" that we were discussing.  We're hearing that many of our friends and their homes are safe.  We are lucky in so many ways.

From Irene: Good News

My in-laws house off the beach in the Rockaways, NYC, is undamaged.  They're home now but don't have power.  What a relief!

From Irene: Watch Cat


From Irene: Brightness

Still no power, but there is a diffuse light that looks almost like sunshine compared to this morning's darkness.  The wind is sporadically gusty, but only just.  People are driving around, walking, gathering, but we are staying inside.  We don't really know how town has fared except by the complete absence of emergency sirens.  We're on the first floor now, playing games, finishing our potholder, doing another Lego set.  It's our own kind of Sabbath rest.  Not a bad thing I'm and of itself, though we would've enjoyed it more without the hurricane.  (Though, the kids prefer "life in a basement" to "life in a bed!")

From Irene: Darkness

We just lost power.
We're in the basement for the duration, listening to Broadway tunes, playing Legos, and doing a new woven potholder project, safe from wind and all our windows.
Turning off my Droid--yes, it came back to life after its swim--to conserve battery.  Our coded phone is now plugged in.

From Irene: All Awake

We're all awake.  We haven't lost power and are considering a big cooked breakfast.  A huge tree went down in the cul-de-sac, missing all houses and cars.  A huge digger just pushed it out of the road.  The kids missed it and are happily playing in the basement.  They slept well and don't seem perturbed, even by all the little limbs down, leaves plastered to our windows, and power blinks.  We're apparently on the windy side of the storm; there is hard rain, too, but the sandbags are protecting our driveway.

From Irene: Mornin'

The wind is howling and rain pummelling the house.  We still have power.  I've slept off and on, keeping an ear to tv for updated tornado watches.  Mama is downstairs with the kids, though I doubt she slept much.

Lights just blinked twice....gonna post this just in case.  But we have lots of flashlights.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

From Irene: Bedtime

The kids are finally quiet downstairs on their sleeping bag pallets. We opted for downstairs because there is more space than in our room. Besides, if we have to move into the basement, which isn't comfortable for sleeping at all, it's easier from the first floor.

Mama and I are upstairs watching tv and reading computer maps. NYC sounds like a mutant version of itself--no trains, planes, and perhaps later even automobiles (I've heard they're considering ordering cabs off the streets). Here in CT, they've discussed closing all the highways, specifically the Merritt/Wilbur Cross with all its lovely and now menacing trees, and told people not to go out after dark. Otherwise, our governor seems rather . . . amateur. Or perhaps it's the individual character of the state with each town taking charge of preparations and decisions and the governor just saying (I paraphrase) "uh, evacuate if, um, your area has ever flooded." Right. You know, the last time we had a category 1 hurricane, because of course, you were living in the same place, right? Useless. At least our mayor seems on top of things. And we feel relatively safe in that respect, with the town shelter less than a mile away. We're absolutely expecting downed trees and power outtage and localized flooding (though we're relatively high).

Okay, I can't think of anything else to tell. Mama now has cellular service on her iPad so that if we lose power and wireless we might still be able to email through it. Which means I can blog on . . . .

Until then, wishing the East Coast the best possible outcome this weekend. Stay safe, my friends.

From Irene: She's Here!

Just the tendrils, mind you. But the sky turned dark and the rain really started. There's some breeze but not what I'd call wind. I imagine the wind and rain will come and go for a few more hours until we're in the thick of it late tonight.

Note to family: we already seem to be having some telephone static, to the point that we can't really hear, even on our regular wireless land-line phones. We're switching to an "old-fashioned" corded phone soon.

Live Blogging the Hurricane

Good afternoon from overcast, drizzly coastal Connecticut!

We've spent the last 24 hours doing everything we can think of to prepare for this storm. From health certificates for the cats in case we end up in a shelter to putting all of our important documents in plastic, from cleaning out our gutters to straightening up the basement, from charging all of our mobile electronics to unplugging all of the others and buying a land-line phone in case everything fails, from putting our grill and charcoal on the enclosed front porch for later to putting everything else from outside in the garage. At one point, Mama and the kids, with neighbor Mr. D's help, even moved the little plastic playhouse, jimmying it from side to side to move . . . and I couldn't resist singing the Wicked Witch of the West's theme from Wizard of Oz! We've chatted with all our neighbors and know who has a generator and who has a gas stove; all of them are staying put. Mama has sandbagged our driveway and our basement door and window to prevent the rain from pouring down the hill into our driveway and then into our house. We even made a last minute ice and Starbucks run this morning! Now we're finishing lunch, watching a movie (gotta enjoy the power while it lasts--the electric company thinks we'll be out of power for 2-7 days), consolidating all of our emergency supplies, packing to-go bags, putting our top ten valuables in a tub. Overreaction? Maybe. But I don't care. The current weather report has the storm making landfall not far from here, bringing 7+" of rain (on top of all the other inches we've gotten this month) and strong winds up to 70 mph, all lasting about 21 hours as the storm sits on top of us. I'd rather be over safe than extra sorry.

And we're not alone--a neighbor up the street has also sandbagged his house, having the same trouble as we do with hill run-off, and our next-door neighbor who has been here since the 1938 storm, I'd swear, had a tall sickly pine tree that hovered over both of our houses cut down this morning! Also, Mama's parents have been ordered to evacuate from the Rockaways--they've sandbagged their own house and moved safely into Queens with Goo. We're glad they're in a safer place but know it's stressful to be evacuated.

We're going to hang out the rest of the day, finishing our list of things while the kids play with the sticker and Lego sets they got on our outing this morning. They'll sleep in our room tonight, away from the giant tree, and Mama and I will somehow sleep while keeping an eye on the storm, which will really start whipping up here around 9 pm, as the current forecast goes. We're most scared of tornadoes and will have the basement ready if we need to move down there (and I mean ready: my great outdoor bench is there so I have a place to recline and there is now a little carpet to walk on too, plus our emergency kit, cat supplies, extra bedding, food, etc etc)

As I told Pop last night, I've had tornado/hurricane nightmares about once a month for as long as I can remember, really the only kind of nightmare I ever have. Must be all those tornado drills we had in school and the few hurricanes that came close to Houston when I was a kid: Alicia, that ripped up downtown and pummeled my grandparents in Galveston, in 1983, or maybe Allen in 1980 (see here for a history of hurricanes in Texas in the 20th century). Plus other storms that caused localized flooding, power outages, nearby tornadoes, and such. (Much less all the ones that have hit since I left--like Rita and Ike--creating long-distance worry.) Boy, could my folks and neighbors throw a pre-hurricane party! And I think they got some practice . . . I remember opening the windows in the false belief that you could equalize pressure and save your house. Dad even told me he remembered a storm eye passing over us and he went out despite all warnings to the contrary. Maybe that's the storm for which I packed my stuffed animals in the car and hid in the bathroom. So it's an odd sensation to be preparing for what I've only dreamed about. No doubt that doesn't help. Or it does, in a way, because we're doing all we can.

I'll blog when I can, though I hope there isn't anything to tell.

A Poem for Mama

To Be of Use by Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Best Hurricane Advice

As overheard . . . .

"If a Weather Channel reporter shows up in your town, leave.
If it's Jim Cantore, leave fast."

The 8,000 Words (Or Less)

I've been trying to think of the best way to discuss and describe our fabulous 24-hour Times Square mini-vacation. And the best thing I've come up with are the lists of our favorite things, made at various times of the trip, in no particular order.

Before that quickly, the whole raison d'etre of our trip. When Mama mentioned going outside in Times Square at night, one of the kids asked, "Will we need to take our flashlights?" As a native New Yorker, Mama felt negligent and embarrassed that her own kids had no concept of Times Square!

From the kids, gathered by Mama during breakfast (my explanations in parantheses):

  • Fun
  • Harry Potter exhibition
  • Ball drop (at the NYC Visitor's Center--the real ball is lit and "Auld Lang Syne" sung regularly)
  • 1,000 taxi cabs (and Bud actually counted, out our 33rd -story hotel window)
  • Lots of Broadway theatres (they liked spotting shows they knew, like Rent and Lion King)
  • Lots of little shops and stores
  • Love the fast fast elevators (we were at the Marriott Marquis and the computerized elevators are impressively fast)
  • Makes you want to sleep (so tired after walking everywhere and staying up late to see the lights)
  • The Amy before she was mine (Sis found a new, white bunny at Toys R Us, where Mama bought the original)
  • Hot dogs (eaten at the TKTS bleachers, during the earthquake we didn't feel)
  • New York City
  • Times square
  • Lots of people
  • Ton of people
  • Big big buildings
  • Our giant hotel (they liked going up to the 48th floor to see the revolving restaurant, though we didn't stay)
  • Makes you tired
  • New wiggle penguin (Bud's NYC souvenir, with a tail you pull to make it dance)

My list, written when the kids were wandering around with Mama while I was resting:
  • I liked seeing the GWB and Intrepid on the way in
  • Early check in--our hotel let us in at noon!
  • Fancy fast elevators...computerized now. . . I remember when they weren't and guests stood around pushing each other out of the way to get to the rare arriving elevator
  • Best view ever--all of Times Square, from end to end, from our corner room on the 33rd floor
  • Chocolate stores--the kids loved the colored M&M wall (Hershey wasn't nearly as impressive, though it smelled more chocolatey)
  • We were in a little independent film being made behind us when the kids were eating those hot dogs near the bleachers during the earthquake which no one noticed--we only knew where we were when it hit because we have a photo timestamped two minutes later
  • I really enjoyed the NYC Visitor Center, which I swear is in an old theater where I saw Hunchback of Notre Dame years ago. I liked the colorful ball drop, the elaborate old theater, and the costumes from Into the Woods and Phantom of the Opera on view. And the shop is great, with a book called Only in New York which I devoured in my downtime. (Do you know why the NYPD caps have 8 points? The original 17th-century police force, the Rattle Brigade, had 8 members!). They also had smoosh-a-pennies!
  • Juniors Cheesecake . . . and egg cream . . . and strawberry blintzes . . . and black and white cookie. Mmmmmmmmmm.
  • Cel-ray soda--Mama got it and Bud liked it, bubbles and all!
  • I liked walking around what I consider my old neighborhood (I lived at 44th near 6th). My old grad school building is now the swanky Euro Hotel Mela. They let us go up to my floor and it looks the same! Better carpet but same exact layout. Hope the leaky windows and mice are gone (but the grandfathered-in SRO tenants are still there!). In the area, the old pizza place (Belizzi's) and Thai place are gone, as is the old standby Ollie's, but the Belasco and Cafe Un Deux Trois are still there. And of course, Virgil's, where we got take out for dinner--mmmm, hush puppies with maple butter, sweet tea, greens, cheese grits, and all the rest (I know, BBQ in Times Square seems just wrong, but it made me less homesick when I lived there). I'm not used to those pedestrian zones, though it sure makes for more room on the sidewalk. The pre-theater rush just wasn't that elbow-to-elbow anymore. (And I'm not sure I heard the familiar pre-theater bell carillon.)
  • Theater shop--Mama loves the little shop in Shubert Alley, with its posters and libretti and programs
  • 5 fire trucks--it was like that kids' game of Rush Hour as the cars moved to make room for the trucks responding to what looked like nothing across the street
  • Cartwheels down the hall--Bud learned cartwheels at kung fu camp and he loved doing them in the big, empty hotel hallway
  • Times Square at night--no, you don't need a flashlight! You almost need sunglasses. At night.
  • Not much to do in Times Square but shop--they liked Toys R Us and the Disney Store and their long hike to Legoland.
  • Bright reflections like an urban aurora borealis on our ceiling at their very late 10 pm bedtime.
  • Swatch watch--Mama bought a fancy one. Sorta an anniversary present.
  • The Harry Potter Exhibition (the real reason for our trip!) was fantastic. The kids were a bit scared of the movie clips, especially the Death Eaters etc., and anything to do with the dark side (to use their Star Wars term). But they were fascinated by the sorting hat bit in the beginning, though neither volunteered. Since we'd just started the book, they were familiar enough with the characters and the culture and enjoyed seeing both film clips and movie props. Mama and I loved the costumes--especially those of Prof. McGonagall, Prof. Trelawney, and Prof. Dumbledore--and the props like the wands, Marauder's Map, canopied beds, trunks with personal belongings, Hagrid's hut, the Hogwarts Express engine, the candy like chocolate frogs, well, really all of it! And of course, the exhibition store. The kids now have wands and Quidditch brooms, which they've played with almost constantly since then.
  • Late check-out--we didn't have to leave until 1, which means we were in NYC for 24 hours and 40 minutes.
As Sis and Bud agreed, "Don't you just love traveling?"

Laughing Instead of Crying

Bless children, they can be so oblivious sometimes. Luckily, today was one of those days. While I was fielding phone calls and checking forecasts, making lists and checking them twice, the kids played and played and played. They know we're having a storm, with rain and wind, though we haven't called it a hurricane around them. But they are singularly unperturbed. I envy the innocence.

And so several times throughout the day, I joined in. We played Harry Potter. A lot. Inside and outside. Sis is Harry. Bud is Hermione. And I vacillate between Hagrid and Ron. We shop on Diagon Alley, ride the Hogwarts Express, practice potions, and play Quidditch.

Later, they did a long dance and dramatic arts performance for me, complete with multiple costume changes, as well as a multi-verse original song accompanied by bongos that goes something like "Something or that,/Something or that/There's a monster with a towel on its head." The last line changes. And no, I'm not sure exactly what it means.

So, thanks to them, we laughed instead of getting stressful and had a good day despite the storm both literally and figuratively swirling around. I hope we can all continue in that light the rest of the weekend.

Good luck, East Coast! I'll blog when I can, depending on power, batteries, and network connection. And of course, Harry Potter playtime . . . .

Our Friend, Hopefully Not Our Enemy

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hi P.A.!

To all my relatives sitting on my parents' bayhouse porch shooting the breeze and enjoying the "nicest part of the day," thanks for humoring my phone call about hurricane preparedness and evacuation. Just needed to confirm that I had all my tasks right (I did) and check what else my dad, a.ka. Phi Beta Papa, would do (i.e. when he would consider leaving here, if he were us). He saw that the track of the storm takes this hurricane practically into our backyard and he is most worried about trees for us (we're about 5 miles inland and maybe 50'+ above sea level). Specifically, the gorgeous, gigantic old silver maple we have out back. It stands 50 feet high, easily, with a spread of 30'+ and not that far from the house, which means that if it falls, it's going to crash right into Sis and Bud's bedroom. It's about 90 years old, the age of the house, with shallow roots, as all silver maples have, which makes it vulnerable to wind. One tree man shook his head wondering why anyone would've planted it so close to a house. Which is what worries Pop. The storm comes in during the day, most likely, which means we can be downstairs, in the front of the house, away from the tree; otherwise, they'll sleep with us. So with all that in mind, we're as ready as we can be.

First An Earthquake, Now This

Yep, a possible hurricane. The Northeast very rarely has hurricanes (the last was Gloria in 1985) and, when it does, they are usually only Category 1.

But this weekend we could be staring down a Cat 2 or even a Cat 3, depending on . . . well, depending on all those variables that hurricanes always depend on, which means we won't know. Which also means we could prepare and nothing would happen or we could not prepare and the worst could happen. Or somewhere in between.

Which means we'll prepare and hope for the best.

After living in Texas for 20+ years and then watching hurricanes that threatened my family for 20 more, I have some advice for my Northeast friends and neighbors, a la my uber-cautious dad. Now, the official advice can be found here. This is my unofficial advice, based on years of hurricanes (thankfully, with very few direct hits and no lives or much property lost--but my mom's family did lose a bayhouse to Carla in 1961 and my dad's print shop has suffered through several storms. And Alicia scared my grandparents, then in Galveston), as well as our experience of having a tree land on the house during a powerful storm (more advice from that day here). The biggest threats from hurricanes are wind, water (storm surge), and tornadoes. For most of my friends here in Connecticut, who aren't directly on the coast, our biggest worries are probably downed power lines/loss of electricity, falling trees, and flooded basements.
  • Have batteries and know where your flashlights are. Remember, you can't dig through closets easily in dark to look for them! Have cell phones charged and a battery-powered radio, too.
  • Have food you won't need to cook--bread, snacks, fruit, whatever you like. Recommendations are usually for 3+ days.
  • Don't open your fridge, which can maintain its temperature for 24 hours. If power is not back right after the storm, start cooking all that frozen and refrigerated stuff out on your grill. (Read here about Houstonians cooking out for weeks after Hurricane Ike in 2008). REVISION: apparently, most things in the fridge aren't good after 4-6 hours, especially the milk products and cooked foods, if the fridge reaches over 40F, but uncut fruits and vegetables, as well as hard cheeses, are usually okay, as are condiments with vinegar--but not mayonnaise!--and jams/jellies with sugar; also, things in the freezer last 24-48 hours depending on how full the freezer is (the fuller the better, which is why it's good to fill the freezer with bags of water/ice before the storm hits) and the food is good if ice crystals are still visible and thawing hasn't occurred. When in doubt, though, throw it out!
  • So have extra charcoal/propane to cook out after the storm.
  • And do not go near downed power lines. If you can, report them to UI at 1.800.7 CALL UI.
  • Have water on hand. And not just bottled water for drinking. Fill your tubs with water so you have extra for other needs, like flushing toilets.
  • Don't forget your pets--be sure to have extra food on hand for them. And in case of evacuation, know which hotels take pets (in general, Homewood Suites does).
  • Fill up your cars with gasoline in case a). you have to evacuate or b). gas supplies get disrupted/gas stations aren't working.
  • Get cash in case ATMs or credit cards aren't working immediately after storm.
  • Unplug major electronics, like computer, DVD player, televisions, during storm. (Seriously, we've lost electronics to surges, even on "protectors.")
  • Secure outdoor furniture and toys, birdfeeders and windchimes, etc etc etc.
  • Know how to reach your insurance company, in case of damage (and remember, you might not be able to Google their phone number without power). Take pictures.
  • Hurricane myth: taping windows helps. No, it doesn't. Don't bother. Now, if you have plywood . . .
  • Tornado myth: opening windows equalizes pressure. No, it doesn't. Don't bother. If a tornado is coming, get in your basement.
Any other tips from my Texas readers?

Good luck!

-=-=-=-=-=-
Some additions from various sources:
  • Some great unusual supplies to have on hand, from This Old House: baby wipes for cleaning, solar-powered fan for when it gets hot, gloves for clean up, fishing line for tying down all sorts of things, vinyl tablecloths (cheaper than tarps)
  • The Red Cross before-during-after list
  • Mentioned on the Weather Channel: freeze bags of water to turn your fridge into an igloo after the power is out.
  • Use solar powered sidewalk lights inside after "soaking" them all day.
  • Buy your emergency supplies before they're talking about your storm 24/7, or the shelves will be empty.

Worth 8,000 Words









Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Best 24 Hours

...in a long, long time.

Yep, we've had our mini-vacation in Times Square. 

And not even an earthquake (which occurred while we were wolfing down hot dogs near the bleachers at the TKTS booth, though we didn't know it at the time) could mess up our trip!

Much more later....

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Happy 14 Years!

Or 17, or 6, or 3, depending on how you count!

I love you very much, Mama Hungry!

We're All Good

A 5.9 earthquake hit the East Coast today.  We are all fine and didn't feel a thing.  Which is good because the idea of an earthquake really scares me.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Things to Do For School

1. Bus route--checked; unfortunately, none of their bus pals from last year are on their bus this year

2. Homework--finished, though I actually thought I'd thrown it away for about 3 days. Talk about panic.

3. Bedtime and wake up shifted--oh, no, not yet. In fact, it seems to be going the wrong way.

4. Morning routine chart--all in my mind. Wondering what time the bus will be here.

5. Uniforms--last year's have been tried on and still fit! They just need a freshening wash.

6. Breakfast options--tested, but they didn't like any of the options.

7. Central location for backpacks--probably the same as last year, which is wherever they drop them.

8. Sign reminding everyone what to take--we'll make this once we know what day library is

9. Lunch ideas--oh, I have lots of ideas, but none of them will be eaten, I'm sure. At least we have the little Laptop Lunch boxes.

10. Snack ideas--ditto.

11. Notes for lunches--have the notecards and stamps.

12. Schultute and good luck poster for first day of school--Mama was getting the little school gifts today but the kids wanted to go with her to the store. Who wants to bet they come home with Legos?

14. Homework chart--waiting to see what the assignments look like; they'll have about 15 minutes of homework a night (only M-Th), by BoE policy.

15. Bedtime routine chart--pretty sure we'll need to move bedtime, but the routine will be the same, with lots of reading and SQUIRT time.

16. Email to the teacher--I like to email the teachers in advance to say hi. And tell them that the kiddos have two mommies. Don't want any weird surprises the first day of school.

That'll keep me busy for 10 days. Especially because I didn't mention any of the fun things we want to do.

Doctor Restored

A few days ago, I really questioned the the knowledge of my OB/Gyn. I've come to revise my opinions somewhat because she called me the next day and we spoke for 25 minutes about the situation. Her latest reference book didn't mention the progestin-gestational diabetes research, but she was open to the research I'd found online and totally agreed that I shouldn't take the medication because of the tripled Type 2 diabetes risk. She said she follow my research leads and get back to me with anything else she uncovered. While I could say again that I'm not impressed that she was not up to date, I was impressed with her willingness to listen, her talking to me at length, and her to desire to get to the bottom of the most current state of research. Still, I'm glad I double checked.

Weeping Like a Camel

If you are a mom, or if you love animals, or ethnographic documentaries, I highly recommend The Story of the Weeping Camel. When Mama ordered it from Netflix, I was more than a bit suspect--a story about a Mongolian family's camel herd and one neglected colt? But the film was mesmerizing, touching, even cathartic, as you saw three generations of one family try to encourage the reluctant mother camel to suckle her newborn colt after a very difficult birth (yep, you get to see it here). You can just see the post-partum depression in this camel and totally empathize with her. They go to great lengths, even sending the young boys of the family to the local town center to find a violinist to conduct a musical ritual after the lamas' prayers have failed. You see how the family takes care of each other (in their brightly-decorated yurts), how the camels take care of their young, how the mother camel is so distraught. Of course, we checked how it ended before we watched. And while there will be tears--yours and the camel's--all's well that ends well.

The Book That Lived

We started it this morning, with the immortal first chapter titled "The Boy Who Lived."

Yep, we're reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

The kids have been begging for a few months now. Please please please. They know we love the stories and movies and they wanted in. They already knew about sorting hats and Quidditch, Albus Dumbledore and Hermione (the characters, not our cats!), owls and Hogwarts, Dementors and Voldemort. In fact, they know more than I wanted them to--that Dobby the house elf dies, for instance--I want them to come to the book as unknowing as possible so that the books are a magical revelation. Which is why we haven't let them see the films yet (besides that they are pretty intense). But it's impossible in this day and age to not know details about the books, especially in this house with its Lego Hogwarts and HP calendar.

And so after much begging, Mama and I researched the reading levels of the series and recommended ages to start. And I re-read sections of it to remember the writing and the plot. (I was surprised to see that I had received the book as a birthday present 12 years ago, from my Uncle W. I couldn't recall how or when I'd started reading the book but knew we'd done so by the first movie, which we went to see for my birthday in 2001.) Turns out that 6 is on the younger side for starting book one. But not impossible, especially because our kids are experienced listeners, absorbing numerous chapter books read by me or on audio. They can remember plot points and wait between readings. They don't necessarily need pictures, even if they like them. Sure, there are some scary bits--like Voldemort drinking unicorn blood or confronting Harry from the back of Quirrell's head--and sad bits like the death of Harry's parents. We had told the kids that we had to be sure they were ready for these books with their sometimes intense, sad, and scary bits. Truth is, I think we were ready for them to begin their HP adventure.

So this morning, bright and early, we started "Year One." I had forgotten much of the beginning, remembering the movie better (gasp)--so much about the Dursleys, so long to get to Harry himself much less Diagon Ally or Hogwarts. I did my best to read the various voices--read aloud expert Jim Trelease says HP is challenging for readers and listeners--trying not to try to do the actors (not that I could do Maggie Smith or Robbie Coltrane or Richard Harris/Michael Gambon if I wanted!) , knowing I'm no Jim Dale (who does the audiobooks brilliantly). The kids didn't seem to mind.

They perked up upon hearing about the stern, still tabby cat--"That must be McGonagall!"--and all the owls flying around--"Those are messages!"--and people in brightly-colored cloaks--"They're witches and wizards!" And were excited when Dumbledore and Hagrid make their appearances. They asked me if the snake part at the zoo was my favorite, knowing very well it wouldn't be.

And when I stopped after two chapters they begged for more.

All of which tells me, today was the perfect day to start reading Harry Potter.

To the Point

In the spirit of trying everything, I went to see an acupuncturist on Friday. I've never had acupuncture, or even visited a naturopath before; this doctor was both and highly recommended by friends and certified, etc.

From the music in the waiting room and free herbal teas to the light incense and Thai and Chinese embroideries in her office, I knew this was a different kind of doctor. We talked for more than an hour about my last 6 years, from gestational diabetes, umbilical hernias, and ovarectomy/c-section to herniated discs, scoliosis, and all those other musco-skeletal oddities, to NSAID allergies and hyper-reactive skin. She wondered about my body's inflammation, thought about various supplements, and then we finally got down to the acupuncture.

I'll readily admit to much trepidation. Needles near my spine make me scared. I've had some--they hurt or are uncomfortable, sting or pinch or exert lots of pressure. But she showed me her little sterilized needles-in-an-envelope and they were more like thin, flexible wires--no chance really of breaking off or anything like that. Still, she was patient and understanding and so we started with one on my hand. I couldn't look.

Luckily, the others were all on my back, behind my knee, and at my ankle. The second insertion, which I could barely feel, caused a lightning flash when she wiggled it. I thought she hit a nerve; she said it was the Qi, or the energy flow. And sometimes she would wiggle it more than once for people. I didn't like it at all so she didn't do that to me. The others were fine, no lightning energy flow, though there was warmth and tingles. I was supposed to relax for about 10 minutes, hard to do with needles in me as I was perched on my side propped up with pillows. But I managed to count breaths for a bit.

And then it was over. Needles out, supplements bought, next appointment made. I was wobbly some the rest of the day, as if I'd exercised too much. Mama Hungry, who accompanied me through the whole thing, of course, noticed right away. And I was so tired. That feeling of exhaustion and over-exertion lasted well into Saturday and is apparently a not-unknown side effect. One website related it to a kinked hose that, when unblocked, gushes forth strongly.

Does my back feel better? No. And I'm not surprised--everything I've read says that, while acupuncture can be good for necks and knees and ankles and infertility, it is not specifically helpful for lower back pain. I'm also at a point in my cycle when my back rarely feels good. It feels less bad than it could, though. And I don't know if that's the acupuncture, the supplements (one for women's cycles, one for GI inflammation), or just my walking routine and weight loss. Oddly, my left ankle that had been tight is feeling a bit better. But that must be a placebo because she didn't fiddle with meridiens for that.

Yep. Qi. Meridiens. Energy. Do I believe it? I don't know. Yeah, it sounds incredibly magical and mysterious. So much so that Western medicine can't explain much less evaluate it beyond saying that some people find relief and help. However, it's been around about 2500 years--what Western medical practice or drug, beyond maybe aspirin, can we say that about? Would it have survived that long if it didn't help? Mama Hungry's grandfather, who must be 96 or so now, swears by acupuncture and goes to the Chinese doctors in Bangkok when he needs treatment . . . and he is almost 100. All of which is to say that at this point, after a year, I'm open-minded and willing to try various things.

Because like the acupuncture itself, it doesn't hurt.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Peace, Joy, Serenity, Love, and Light

That's how my friend Miss C signs all of her email. I send all of those to her and more as she recovers from surgery.

I'll be making a meal for her soon. I think I like that my first two full cooking experiences in recent memory, however simple, have been for friends in crisis. Not because they're in crisis, of course, but because I can help out, after receiving so much help from so many for so long.

An Apple Day

It's the very beginning of apple season here in Connecticut even though it is not near fall yet. But my mind is turned to apples, especially because Mama Teacher asked if we would be having our annual Applepalooza party again. The answer will probably be yes, if only so I can make the decadent apple dessert here, Miss R's Apple Crumb Cake. We've always had so many wonderful apple treats at Applepalooza (see here and here). And it's a great way to celebrate the season, both the fall and the beginning of school. I think I'm ready for a party.

-=-=-=-=-=-

Miss R's Apple Crumb Cake

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 cups flour
1 can apple pie filling--she uses Comstock (frozen fruit doesn't work)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Mix all ingredients except apple pie filling and form into a dough ball. Divide ball in two.

Grease a 9x13 pan. Press one dough ball into pan. Spread apple filling over dough. Crumble other ball in teaspoon-size crumbs over the top. Sprinkle with cinnamon.

Bake for 40-45 minutes.

Miss R

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Falling for a Plan

Continuing on a previous post about how quiet and clean the house is, I'm getting a good preview of what the school year will be like. And, while it's bittersweet now, with the end of summer fun, I'm also looking forward to fall and new experiences and the like.

As I've told you, I'm participating in the 30 Day Vegan Workshop hosted by Heather at Beauty That Moves. And because I'm not able to do a 100% vegan right now, I'm focusing on the self-care side of whole and natural living. I've been doing a self-refresh ritual around 3 pm, with brushing my teeth, combing my hair, rinsing my face, and washing my glasses. I've also started rearranging parts of our environment, keeping the useful and beautiful, redistributing the rest. To these ends, I'm reading a lot of the other participants' blogs and the recommended resources. And, as you know, once you get started, the web expands outwards leading you to all sorts of places.

Besides others' fun days of summer and their experiences setting up their kitchens for the workshop, I've read about a 30 day mom challenge, home management notebooks, the whole world of Pinterest, menu planning, Montessori approaches for home, and so much more. I've also found books, such as The Rhythm of Family by Amanda Soule, Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne, Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair, Organized Simplicity by Tsh Oxenreider, and Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson. And so, I've got some organizational plans in the works to keep me on task so I don't spend whole days doing nothing all alone while the kids are in school. Which in turn will help me be a better mom and partner when everyone else gets home from their day, making all of our days better. Think of it as my professionalization of motherhood and housewifery (an extension, as it were, of my more philosophical or spiritual musings on those. I guess it's theory and practice?). I know, I've waxed poetic about these things before, probably on a semi-annual basis (see here and here and here and here)--yeah, I'm much better at thinking and writing about it than doing it (an avoidance mechanism, for sure)--but I'm finding practical tips and tools to do it. A daily planner, an organized budget, a compendium of important legal and medical paperwork, a yearly schedule of things not to miss, a binder of tried-and-true recipes, ideas for fun family activities.

Beyond cleaning the kitchen and clutter, paying the bills and planning our family calendar, and all the other household maintenance activities for which there are myriad checklists and such, this is what I really want to do everyday, by myself and with my family:
  • Read something.
  • Learn something
  • Create something.
  • Work on a work-in-progress.
  • Clean something.
  • Connect with someone.
  • Be outdoors some.
  • Meditate.
  • Exercise.
And I know just where to look for help.

Kung Fu Camping

The kids are halfway through kung fu camp and loving it! The first day they came home sweaty and, no sooner were they in the door, Bud did a headstand. He can actually almost do it freestanding but prefers to use the wall for support. They love the food--"chicken and broccoli with soy sauce in a round silver container--and we got to choose!!" They've played various games from their teacher's childhood in China, including "Mother Hen, Baby Chicks, and Hawk" and something called "Triangle," where you chase people to tag them into your group and the biggest group wins. And lots of ping pong. (And a poking game that they and another, older girl they met at tournament, play together.) They have even meditated, first lying on the floor and then the next day, sitting up with legs crossed and hands on knees. "Mom, you think about your breathing and your nose," Bud explained. They both like it. They especially have liked learning Chinese characters and phrases, having forgotten completely every word from their two courses in Mandarin including the fact that they ever did take Chinese! Sigh. Anyway, they're relearning "hello" and such, plus "I take Chinese kung fu."

Oh, yeah. And they're learning a new kung fu form, too.

Quiet and Clean

That's right. My house is both quieter and cleaner than usual.

And, frankly, as much as I complain (generally about the latter), I'm not sure I like it.

Yep, both of these have occurred because the kids are at camp all day. There are no toys on the floor to step on, no dirty clothes to trip over, no snacks not cleaned up after. But also no art projects they've worked on, no costumes they've worn to act out stories, no games they've played, no Lego projects they've constructed.

It's just clean. And neat. And quiet.

Messes indicate that the kids have been here having lots of fun. And there's just going to be a lot less of that soon, perhaps sooner than I anticipated.

Fears and Frustrations

This will fall under the category of "TMI" for some of you as it regards me and my OB/GYN.

She prescribed the mini-pill, or Progestin, to help decrease inflammation that is stressing out my back during my cycle. I would probably have started it this weekend.

Except last night, researching the medication--something we now always do having had to second-guess several doctors (remember my first physiatrist and the SI-injection thing?)--I discovered that it's contraindicated for women who had gestational diabetes because, according to a USC study, the American Diabetes Association, and even the WHO, it triples a woman's chance of developing Type 2 diabetes. Tripled. From about 8% to more than 25%. Those aren't good odds. Which is why all those groups say not to prescribe the mini-pill to those women.

To me.

And I'm mad. I'm mad that my doctor didn't know. Or knew and didn't connect the two. I'm mad that I got that close to taking something that could cause a lot more trouble than the cyclical back trouble I have. I'm mad that I always have to second guess and double check and not trust these doctors. And finally I'm mad that there's now just one less thing I can do to help my back.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Good Evening



Time Travel

I was transported to another era this morning. The colonial era, of course. I had historic house training today and, at one point, I went outside to recline on the bench (even I get museum legs after almost 2 hours upright). The overcast sky diffused the gentle light across the little garden of the house, the herbs and plants blowing in the unseasonably cool breeze. There's nothing like hints of fall in New England, especially in the garden of a colonial house.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Of Sunshowers and Rainbows


To Begin with the Beginning

Paraphrasing Dickens, I'm excited today to begin at the beginning of the 30 Day Vegan Workshop hosted by Beauty That Moves. As I mentioned previously, I can't focus as exclusively on vegan food as I had originally planned, but I am striving to meet other wholesome, whole-living goals. And today was all about self-care.

Continuing the reorganization of my environment started this weekend, I cleared my desk of its accumulated papers and emptied my nightstand of all the detritus that had accumulated during my 6 weeks of bed rest. It looks less like a hospital side table and more like a nightstand now. In fact, while our house-decorating style will always be more Victorian horror vacui than modernist simplicity, I'm coming to embrace several aspects of wabi-sabi, the Japanese appreciation for beauty in used, old, or otherwise imperfect objects. In cleaning out my magazines, I came across an article in Mother Earth News (February/March 2011) that elucidated several of the principles, including, with my own descriptions:
  • cultivate slowness, which reminds me of "when you wash the rice, wash the rice" and other Zen mindfulness teachings
  • cultivate vision, or really look at what is in front of you
  • cultivate craft--I recently heard of the "slow craft" movement (called "slow clothes" in this article on sewing in Brooklyn)
  • cultivate cleanliness, going back to Zen, this reminds me of much of Karen Maezen Miller's writings, including her book Hand Wash Cold
  • cultivate solitude, a "mommy time-out" to meditate for me
  • cultivate space, space and light being two major aesthetic principles
  • cultivate silence, which for me is turning off the noise of technology
  • cultivate sabi, or respecting the beauty that comes with age and history
  • cultivate soul, by embracing people over technology in what you buy, keep, and do
  • cultivate imperfection . . . because I won't be able to enact all of these all the time!
  • cultivate hospitality, so that I have a warm drink and a treat on hand for friends
  • cultivate simplicity, again people over things, experiences over objects
It makes me want to re-evaluate every room in our house, taking out that which is simply there and leaving that which is most beautiful, most useful, and most meaningful. I also want to re-read with the kiddos Wabi-Sabi, the children's book by Mark Reibstein and Ed Young about the cat and the philosophy.

Finally, after all that cleaning, I've also done my treadmill exercises, spent some time outside during a break in the rain, and even brushed my teeth, washed my face, and cleaned my glasses midday for a little personal rejuvenation. Which is exactly what this course is giving me.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

My "Food Studio"



As I've mentioned, I'm participating in the 30 Day Vegan Workshop via Beauty That Moves. It officially starts Monday but there was some prep work for us to do, from downloading recipes and shopping lists to watching an intro video. And there was a post about setting up a whole-foods and cooking friendly kitchen.

I already have my utensils in big containers and my beans in recycled jelly jars and my oils and S&P on the counter.And I'd gotten rid of most of the plastic awhile back. Though, my mostly Penzey's spices are spread out in two different places, being too numerous to put in my little cabinet (and the basement entrance, with shelving, gets too much sun to store spices there).

But I still had work to do. Well, that "I" is rhetorical. I still had work for Mama to do. Namely, relocating the contents of many of my cabinets (yes, I think of the kitchen as mine) so that I could reach everything I might need to do the little bit of stovetop and crockpot cooking I can manage--collander, Corning ware, mixing bowls. I couldn't reach them where I used to store them anymore so we fiddled with our organization and found an easy-to-reach shelf for everything I would need regularly. Sure that means it's a rather odd collection all on one shelf, but it works for me now. And that's the point of a "food studio," to borrow Heather Bruggeman's words: a place where I can comfortably create food.

That was last night. Today I put a few finishing touches on things. I washed down the giant magnetic chalkboard that takes up one wall of my kitchen, sorting and saving artwork from the end of kindergarten; it's now ready for the new school year in two weeks. I cleared off some of the clutter on the refrigerator door, moving papers and moving magnets to the chalkboard. Then I rearranged the windowsill above my sink. I've put one of our homemade candles in its little Old Sturbridge Village candleholder there, along with my blue "hopes and dreams" bank decorated with an orange cat and a gray cat. Finally, I hung up a prism because I love to see rainbows dancing around the room, which faces not quite due-west, which means rainbows while I prepare dinner. Lastly, I'm thinking of painting three rocks or shells with the words "big mind," "joyful mind," and "mom mind" a la How to Cook Your Life about Edward Espe Brown.

Actually, I'm inspired to paint the whole room, the one room in the house we never painted; it's just plain white. But that will have to wait some.

The kitchen, indeed the whole house, is unusually quiet and still this afternoon, with the kids at the beach with Mama. But it's ready for action. And our first kitchen activity will be making a meal of baked spaghetti pie and strawberry "risotto" for our friend who is struggling with adapting to her daughter's new Type 1 diabetes diagnosis.

-=-=--=-=-=-

Spaghetti Pie

4 cups cooked spaghetti (about 1/2 pound uncooked)--I'm using whole wheat
1-10 oz package frozen chopped broccoli, thaed and squeezed dry
1 cup shredded smoked mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 1/2 cups marinara sauce, warmed in the microwave
chopped parsley leaves

Preheat oven to 350F and coat 9" springform pan (I'm using a foil pie plate) with nonstick spray.

Stir the spaghetti, broccoli, cheeses, egg, and Italian seasonings together in large bowl. Scrape in pan and level the top.

Bake 30 minutes or until golden. Cool about 5 minutes and then remove sides of springform pan. Cut into 6 wedges. Serve with marinara and parsley.

Weight Watchers Eat! Play! Move!

-=-=-=-=-=-

Strawberry Risotto

1/2 cup low or non-fat strawberry yogurt (not the fruit-on-the-bottom kind)--make into yogurt cheese by straining in a sieve lined with wet paper towel/cheesecloth/paper coffee filter set over a jar for about 6 hours
2 1/2 cups low or non-fat milk
zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup arborio rice
1 cup sliced fresh strawberries

Warm milk in saucepan and steep lemon zest in it for about 10 minutes, keeping the milk below a simmer.

Dissolve sugar in milk, then strain to remove zest.

Put rice in heavy saucepan and pour enough of hot milk to cover the rice. Stir over low heat until milk is absorbed. Keep adding hot milk and stirring until you've used all the milk and rice is plump and chewy, about 40 minutes.

Take risotto off heat and let cool a bit, stirring oven, for about 5 minutes. Stir in yogurt cheese and let cool completely. Stir in fresh strawberries

Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, covered, until chilled through. Stir well before serving.

Diana Shaw, Almost Vegetarian

Solitary Saturday

The kids and Mama have headed to see Ma, Gong, and Goo in the city, particularly to have dim sum and go to the beach, perhaps catching the ice cream truck this afternoon.

I am home alone. Of course, this isn't an unusual situation for me--between school, camp, nannies and babysitters--but something about it being a Saturday makes it special.
  • I've purged magazines while watching through backlogged episodes of "David Rocco's La Dolce Vita;"
  • read some of the NYTimes, but really can't bear to hear about Rick Perry or the Tea Party or the GOP, which leaves little left to peruse;
  • rearranged the fridge magnets (okay, that just sounds pitiful, but they needed a purging) while listening to Broadway showtunes;
  • sorted and trashed and saved various papers from the end of the school year (getting teary as I looked at their worksheets from the beginning of the year when they were learning letters);
  • walked on my treadmill while reading through two UU Church of the Larger Fellowship tracts (one on grace, more on that later);
  • prepared lunch--a big salad and a prepackaged risotto entree (that's going well--I've lost 5 lbs this week, probably a lot of water weight);
  • and, now I'm blogging while watching an old "Glee."
And I still have about 5+ hours until they get home. I have some more sorting/cleaning/straightening to do (I paused midway to protect my back). Other than that, there's Italian, working on the historic house curriculum, and . . .

. . . The phone just rang and Mama Teacher is coming over. Off to put some coffee in the freezer for an afternoon chat!

It's shaping up to be a perfect day.

Friday, August 12, 2011

One Year Later

It was a year ago last night when I herniated my disc and started a year of recovery and re-injury. I've blogged about it all along, including practical advice for dealing with back pain, advice for friends of patients like me (and for patients like me), and several posts on gratitude (a couple here and here).

But here at the first anniversary mark of what has become a chronic condition, I wanted to reflect on the year which has taught me so much. That's not to say I'm glad I've had this experience--the pain, the limitations, the isolation, the disappointment, the vulnerability and fear, the uncomfortable personal and interpersonal insights, even the considerable expense--have been very hard. But one of the things I've been learning to do this year is not to dwell on those too much because it just makes everything worse. In the mean time, I've learned numerous valuable lessons which I hope will stand me in good stead.
  • Common humanity: I have become more aware of the suffering (using the Buddhist term intentionally) around me and more connected to the people around me through it, as I described here. I have more compassion, more patience, for the weaknesses and faults and trials and challenges others and myself now . . .
  • Compassion: the kindness of friends and family has been overwhelming and indispensable. From childcare to meals, from visits to email, from rides to errand help, and 6 weeks of TLC from my folks, I have witnessed and benefited from the compassion and generosity of others. And for all of this, I have lived in a continuous state of . . .
  • Gratitude: I am thankful for my family and friends and for all of our privilege. It is hard not to want to pay everyone back, so to speak, for what they've done--but how do you pay back people for saving you?--so I will pay it forward.
  • Power of the mind: this is a double-edged sword. My mind could take me to depths of despair and fear and anxiety and loneliness, but also to places of calm and resilience and patience and perseverance. And my mind kept me from teetering over the edge of boredom--learning colonial history, studying Italian, reading books on Buddhism. Through meditation, I have tried to lean one way more than the other. And, as Diana Nyad says, to be my most courageous self. Because it takes courage and stamina to walk through pain. But as I've learned the limits of my body, I've learned the limitlessness of my spirit. Adjacent to this is . . .
  • Adapatability: I can adjust to a lot. I can do without. I can cope with change and live with limits and disappointment. I don't need what I thought I did. So can Mama Hungry. So can our kids, who have been amazing at adjusting to a mom who can't sit or bend or drive. When I drop things, they pick them up without thinking; when we have to find a way to play or color or read in an awkward position, they make it work without complaint. And when I do something, achieve something, I haven't in awhile--like come downstairs for dinner or go on an outing, they celebrate by dancing around and giving me high-fives. It's been wonderful to see their innate empathy.
  • Personal Responsibility: I am much more aware of how my choices affect me and those around me. When I overdo it, Mama and the kids pay through my absence, in addition to the discomfort I experience. Or my folks give up weeks of their lives to come take care of us all. Or worry about us when they're not here. I have to own that while I don't intentionally cause any of that, I am the vehicle of it. And so I'm now much more vigilant in my movements, exercises, medications, diet, obligations. In a separate realm, I have also become much more pro-active in my own health care choices, realizing that I have to stay on top of doctors, diagnoses, medications, and pursue that which doesn't work or feel right. I'm usually really loyal to doctors, and loathe changing, but realize that gets me nowhere. I need to be my best self and find those who can help me.
It's not everything--and as months stretch into years, there will be more--but it's fundamentally altered who I am. And not just because disc L5-SI1 isn't what it should be. Only two other events have topped it for cumulative effect--falling in love with Mama and having children. And so while my back injury is literally a pain in my ass, it's not all bad.

The Moral of Harry Potter

Lily Potter
Narcissa Malfoy
Molly Weasley

Don't f**k with moms.

Yep, that's the lesson for today, folks. We just went to the movies to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (Bud begged to go with us, but nope. Not until he's read the books). I made it through the whole thing, pacing back and forth on the carpet leading to the exit. And when I could watch the vertiginous camera work through the amazing sets and scenes, I loved watching Narcissa Malfoy lie to Voldemort and then Molly Weasley destroy Bellatrix Lestrange. And of course, there's Lily Potter whose love, the most powerful magic of all, saved her son.

Sure, you can discuss Harry Potter from the perspective of Christian theology, Jungian archetypes, the hero's journey, the road from childhood to adulthood, all the literary and folkloric influences. And sure, it's named after the hero. But in the movie today, it was the moms who ruled.

(Well, and Prof. McGonagall and Neville Longbottom and Hermione and Ron and . . . and . . . and . . . )

Tunnel Vision

With about 2 1/2 weeks left of summer, I feel like I have tunnel vision, my eyes focused on a single day, the start of school. We're doing summer homework, checking clothing supplies, figuring out lunch ideas (this will be their first year to have lunch at school), considering changes to the morning and evening routine (do we need to get up a bit earlier because the bus will be earlier? do we need to push back bedtime to make room for play, homework, and dinner?), even considering reconfiguring some of the toy storage, all with an eye on the new school year. Which has the effect of condensing time. So, while all I have on the brain is the start of school, I'm trying hard to stay in the moment and enjoy the last of summer . . . and not infect the kids with my preoccupation. For them, school will be here soon enough.

Sneak Preview

It's 62F outside this morning, a tease of fall. And I love it!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Tenting Tonight

With our coat rack in the middle of the room and blankets and sheets attached via rubberband and festooned around the room, the kiddos are camping out in their room tonight. Sleeping bags, flashlights, books, pencils and paper, a later bedtime, everything but snacks and the sounds of the outdoors at night to complete the experience. And like any sleepover, I'm expecting the midnight discombobulation from sleeping under their floor under a giant, dark canopy to wake us all up. Still, it was a very happy bedtime.

Our Own Tutor

I count myself fortunate to have Mama Teacher as a friend for a variety of reasons. Most recently, however, I have been grateful for her professional expertise as a first-grade teacher. See, I always have questions. "Is this developmentally appropriate?" (See how I didn't use the word "normal" there?) "How do you know the age level of a book?" And today's--"Is summer homework stupid?"

For thirty minutes, we talked on that last one. As a mom, she said yes; as a teacher, she said no. Which means she hasn't had her son do his yet either but feels immensely guilty about it (in fact, she's lost the math packet! Okay, I'm not laughing at you, Mama Teacher. I'm just glad to know teachers are like the rest of us about homework.) She had some suggestions for getting through homework. Give them a break after school and do the homework later. Divide and conquer, having Mama take one child and me the other. Or, separate them spatially or sequentially. She also breaks worksheets into thirds, using a divided file folder that flips open, and lets her son take breaks in between sections. Clever. She also assured me that as a teacher she would not judge our summer homework efforts too harshly; indeed, she admitted that homework tests the parents as much as it does the child. (I'm not sure that made me feel better, exactly.)

The other day when she visited, she even sat and read with Sis, who was thrilled to have a new listener (anyone but her moms). I picked up so many tips on how to instruct a beginning reader--how to slide through the syllables of unfamiliar words, how to suggest sounding out syllables (ooops, forgot the teacher lingo for letter groupings), how to encourage and support gently, even how to know if a book is too hard (5 finger rule: if they don't know 1-2 words on a page, it's the right level; if they don't know 3-5 words, it's too hard) . Interestingly, she said Sis is almost a purely sight word reader, meaning she just doesn't read phonetically despite that being the focus in school. We could tell that because she sees the first letter of a word and guesses based on textual and illustrated context. And once she sees a word once or twice, she usually has it memorized. (Bud, on the other hand, is almost purely a phonetic reader.) Such insights really help. Especially as I balance being a straight-A, Phi Beta Kappa, Ivy League grad with being a more laid back, well-rounded, encouraging mom.

Which is why I not half-jokingly offered to hire her as a tutor . . . so someone else has to deal with homework!!

(By the way, just when summer homework has me again considering home or unschooling, I read a quote on a blog that said they were a "life-learning family, supplementing our experiences with public school." I like it.)

Not an Ordinary Miracle

Fantastic, fabulous, incredible news: my beloved aunt is doing so well after many dark days. She is eating, sitting up some, even able to move enough to open a letter and read it. Her surgical wounds are healing nicely, the feeding tube is gone, and she has even progressed enough to be moved to a lower level of care next week. It really is almost unbelievable. And if Sarah Mclachlan sings of "Ordinary Miracles," this one just seems extra.

You Have to Be Carefully Taught

The kids have little tripartite banks they received at school that are labeled "spend, save, share." They were fascinated by the three slots and enjoyed putting money in each, not caring what the category was.

Like most 6-year olds, my kids vacillate between utterly selfish and surprisingly generous. There's really little telling when one will fetch a lovey and a bandaid for the other . . . or knock'em down again.

Of course, as Mom, I want to encourage the former, stress the "share" part of the piggy bank. We haven't done any family volunteer activities, mainly because of my situation this last year, but do regularly involve the kids in giving--to the food pantry, the coat drive, the gift collection at Christmas and Easter for kids in the shelter, and even sending money, including a part of their Chinese New Year money, to animal projects, the Red Cross during disasters, and the like.

And then I read Nicholas Kristof's Op-Ed today about Rachel, a young girl who routinely cut her hair for Locks of Love and also canceled her birthday party and had friends donate $9 each for clean water for children in Africa. Tragically, a month after her birthday, she was injured in a car accident and later died. In her name, $960,000 has been collected, up from the $220 she collected from her birthday. It's not what her family must have imagined for her ninth year, but it's a beautiful gift in her memory.

Similarly, and closer to home, a wonderful project is taking place in Austin, Texas, in honor of Janna Plentl, a friend of my family's, whose life was similarly cut short by non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. She was an architect devoted to environmental causes and this year Austin's Habitat for Humanity is building a green house for a single mom with funds raised in Janna's honor and matched by her family.

We'll be donating to both causes, with the kids, who will also start getting $3 a week to put in those banks of theirs so that they, too, can learn to give to others, just like Rachel and Janna.

My Two New Food Projects

Next week I start my second vegan cleanse, this time following an official vegan workshop hosted by Beauty That Moves (it's not too late to join us).

There's only one challenge: I've recently started a diet--not a "lifestyle" but an honest-to-goodness diet with rules and limitations--that provides most of my food for me in prepackaged astronaut-like containers.

Yes, I know. It's not natural. It's not local. It's not organic. It's not seasonal. It's everything I don't like in food. It's not really even real food. Though, it is vegetarian.

But I need to lose weight for my back and that has been absolutely compromised by my complete inability to really cook. So this is a temporary approach to a longer term project, a way to lose half my weight (not what I weigh, but what I need to lose) or so as easily as I can, while protecting my back and saving my energy for my kids.

I will still make their food, mostly in the crockpot or on the stove since I can't get things in and out of the oven, and we still make all of our own fruits and vegetables.

So, for the vegan workshop, I'll be making non-dairy choices when possible and making delicious vegetable dishes to supplement. I'm hoping it's the best of both worlds, at least until I can get back to cooking and real food and a lower weight.

How To Ruin a Beautiful Sunny Day in One Word

Homework.

Even before I had kids, I would see the district homework package in the library and be disgusted. Who makes kids do summer homework? I never had summer homework, nor did Mama, and we both did just fine. I've read articles and studies that say that homework doesn't really affect the so-called "summer learning loss." Parents that encourage, cajole, no--force--their kids to do it are the same ones providing stimulating, even educational summers that result in less loss anyway. The ones who don't, aren't, and tend to have kids that lose a month of learning. Of course, these lines often fall along class lines (though, apparently, everyone loses math skills). So, at best, I'm indifferent to summer homework; at most, I'm actually hostile to it, believing it to infringe on summer "recess." And I'm not alone in being torn.

We've been putting it off all summer. Instead, the kiddos have gone to science museums and aquariums, written and illustrated books, played Star Wars and fairyland and Robin Hood, built forts and hideouts, baked cakes and made meatloaf, played on scooters and learned to ride bicycles, played with their grandparents and their neighbors, gone to camp and the beach and the park, had restaurant meals and ice cream and picnics outside, gone swimming and slip-n-sliding, danced to their favorite music and sung around the campfire, played board games and card games and pool games and yard games, and read and been read to almost everyday.

But they hadn't done their homework. Until this morning, when we sat down to write two short book reports on books they had read themselves. (Mind you, at their age, I don't think I could even read, much less write full sentences. I was wasting time playing instead.).

Flashback to a year's worth of weekly assignments, with whining and frustration, giving up and giving in. "Do we have to do both pages?" Bud wondered. Sis ended up in tears. They don't want summer to end. They don't want school to start. I'm not sure I do either, at least from a homework front. I think I dread that part of it as much as they do, especially because I'm the one who has to make them do it (until they're old enough to be responsible for it themselves--so maybe, shouldn't schools only assign homework when that's the case?)

And so we finished up as quickly as we could and then headed outside for a game of Robin Hood and a feast of fresh nectarines and cold cherries, later baking a cake with a layer of chocolate kisses and marshmallows in the middle for extra fun. There's time enough for homework in the nine months, and 12+ years to come.