Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Wrap-Up

Well, it sure wasn't the Halloween weekend we expected, what with snow pounding New England (a winter storm 55 days before the beginning of winter!), the loss of power by 3 million households, the cancellation of school all over, and then the postponement of the holiday in many places.  The damage was definitely worse than Hurricane Irene for many (1000 trees down in Central Park, eight times more than Irene). We were very fortunate to be below the heavy snow line--we still had power, school, and Halloween, with only one big branch down.  Pop called us "the Miami of Connecticut."  We are very lucky and grateful and stand ready to offer hot showers, laundry machines, and a warm place to visit to our friends.

Because of the storm, we couldn't attend two of our five celebrations.  One was postponed til next weekend; the other we missed (but Mommy Goose was very kind to bring us cupcakes and favors--thanks!!).  But we still got to go to two parties and then trick or treat.  As usual, Mama's office decorated for Halloween and had candy at every cubicle.  The kids wandered from department to department trick or treating.  Then we wolfed down fast food and headed to the school festival, which was held indoors this year.  The kids enjoyed the games, the fortune teller (just like Divination at Hogwarts!!!), the trick or treating, and the bake sale.  They made ghoulish popcorn hands with candy corn fingertips and spider rings.  And they chatted with their friends.  And then they crashed.

Saturday and Sunday were spent mostly at home just like on a regular snow day.

Monday dawned and they couldn't understand why they had to go to school on a holiday!  They got off the bus at 4 pm and wanted to change into their costumes right away.  But we had to do our homework (come on, teachers, really?  Homework on Halloween?  Frankly, that sucks.  I put up with homework on the principle that you have to do what teachers ask, even though I know from statistics that it is almost a completely useless and ineffective tool for learning.  I was tempted to ignore it, but that's not a good lesson either).  And then we had dinner, something healthy before the candy inundation.

Yep, I don't have too many issues with this yearly candy overload, even with the unfair cocoa labor practices, excess wrapper garbage, HFCS and unhealthy fats, and pop-culture laden costumes (ooh, feeling guilty about this now).  I figure the other 364 days outweigh the indulgences.  And we're not raisin people, either.  We give out candy (usually Dum-Dums, thereby avoiding the Hershey child-slave labor controversy) and we eat candy.  As much as they want on Halloween and then a few pieces everyday for a week, at which point we donate the remainders.

So at 5:30 they were fully dressed as Harry Potter, both of them--cloaks, ties, glasses, wands, and lightning-bolt scar--and took pictures outside.  But our group,headed by Neighbor Boy, wasn't ready to go out trick or treating.  We hopped in the car and headed to see Mrs. S, who generously invited us in and oohed and aahed (her grandkids were there, looking cute and ready to go), and then to Mama Teacher, who similarly welcomed trick or treaters early.  We got home just in time and headed out with our group.  Gone was any sign of shyness or reticence of Halloweens past.  Sis and Bud ran to each house and knew all their lines, carefully selecting their favorite, non-nut candies if given the chance to choose.  Kit Kats, Tootsie Rolls, Hershey Bars, and any chewy fruit things were the coveted candies this year.  Bud even got Swedish Fish!  And they both got a few full-sized bars.

They were done around 8 pm (I split my time with them and at home passing out candy), pouring their loot on the living room floor to sort out the unwanted treats and swap (treats unwanted by either child will go to Occupy New Haven), eating several pieces as they went and saving some like Smarties and Dots for Christmas gingerbread houses.  As 9 pm inched closer, Mama told them they could keep any candy they could keep in a box.  Can you guess whose box is whose?

Bud dumped his candy in and couldn't get it all to fit.  Sis sorted and organized hers, carefully layering the pieces so that there was space to spare (channeling Mama and Gong as she did it!).  When Bud was in tears that all his candy didn't fit, Sis then helped him with his box, managing to fit it all.  They left out two pieces for lunch today and headed, exhausted, to magical sweet dreams.

For those of you with the holiday still to come, have a wonderful and happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Snow Falling on Pumpkins

That big, long branch on the left, over the peach house, fell this afternoon, landing on the round bush and missing the neighbor's house.  Glad we weren't outside then.

Well Done!

Good luck and well done to the builders working with Habitat for Humanity in Austin today to build an environmentally-friendly house in memory of our family friend, Janna Plentl, eco-architect!!!


It wasn't supposed to snow until late tonight and, even then, I didn't believe the forecast.

The snow started around noon, as we were checking out from the grocery store.  The rain that had been gently falling, thickened and started to fall in icy chunks.  By the time we got on the highway, it was snowing heavily.

"Mom, it's fall and winter all at once!" Bud marveled as we watched snow fall past gold and orange leaves.  It was beautiful, one of the more gorgeous  snowfalls I've ever seen.

Because of the snow, there was brief conversation of how it looked like Christmas, but they opted not to skip Halloween!

We got home and headed straight for the yard.  I kept marveling at the anomaly of snow on leafy trees, on Halloween decorations, on us in October!  The kids managed to scoop up the heavy snow into balls.  "You're toast!" they yelled, pummeling me with snowballs.  Neighbor Boy came over for a bit and had a snowball fight with them.  Mama and I tried to capture the beauty in photographs, but I'm not sure I could encapsulate it.

While we were inside drinking hot chocolate and decorating our Halloween gingerbread houses, we noticed that part of our lovely silver maple had succumbed to the heavy snow--a 25' limb missed hitting our neighbor's house by inches!  The kids were upset to see such a chunk of the tree broken; we hope the rest of it is okay.  Luckily, our squirrels' home is in a knot in another branch--they were scampering in and out later, probably not as surprised by the snow as we were (they've been running around for days but are not as chunky as they usually are by the first snow).

Now it's darkening and the snow is slowing, though the weather warnings say it will go well into the night, with lots of power outages and damages from fully-leafed trees covered in gloppy snow.  When the wind blows, huge chunks of wet snow, akin to Sis and Bud's snowballs, hit the house and deck with a thud.  Mama Teacher's cars barely escaped damage from a falling branch.  And we'll be lucky if we don't lose power (and thus heat--it's oil but the heater is electric).

But we probably got our Christmas card pictures of the kids in snow next to our pumpkins!

(Pictures soon!)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Show-and-Tell Special

Bud took two chess pieces for show and tell today.

Sis took a framed photo of her cousin.

Happy almost first birthday, Cousin Hungry!

October Snow?!?

Okay, it had been a forecast of rain tomorrow, and it still is . . . except the 5-8" of snow tomorrow night!!!!  Yep, the I-95 Nor'easter is coming tomorrow!  If it's true (and I'm not holding my breath!), it's a rare pre-Halloween snow for us.

A Boulder New Look

We're having our driveway repaved today.  It's been crackling, buckling, and most problematically draining the entire street into our backyard (we had to sandbag during the hurricane so it wouldn't come in the house!).  The driveway was 25-30 years old with such erosion that loose rocks would come out of it every time it rained.  And while I'm looking forward to a new, flat, safe surface (with a small expansion at the garage) and the new Belgian blocks along the edge to help with erosion, I'm most excited by the two boulders and two big rocks that the crew unearthed in the process--landscape features!  We've added the small ones to our existing rock wall and the two huge ones (which he estimated at 1 1/2-2 tons each!) in line with my favorite rock.   The kids are going to love playing on them and one of them is tall enough for me to lean against when I'm outside.  Really a pretty amazing reminder that the Ice Age glaciers came through here and those big boulders probably hadn't been unearthed or moved since then (with the Ice Age beginning 2-3 million years ago, the last glacier left the area about 22,000 years ago, after several advances and recessions).  Too bad the kids were at school for it--what a great geology lesson that would have been!

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.  (from SouleMama)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Heat is On

The temperature has dropped to 39F, with the minute but forecast possibility of some non-sticking snow showers on Saturday.  Which means we've turned the heat on, after quickly clearing the radiators of toys and costumes and pillows.  The comforting familiarity of water wooshing through the rattling radiators has just begun; the once-a-year odor of burning dust will soon begin.  I love this warm sweater, wool socks, yarn craft, hot chocolate, big pot of soup, extra blanket time of year.

Goodwill Hunting

One of my current SuperBetter quests is to "hunt the good," making a list of awesome things in my life so that I focus on the positive and avoid ruminating on the negative.  Here's a very partial list in no particular order:
  • Mama, Sis, and Bud (and the cats)
  • family (Hello, Texas!)
  • friends, real life and online (especially my playgroup mom friends and my blog readers--extra points to the two of you who do both!!!!)
  • people who have helped (Mrs. S, Driver, my SB allies, friends who visited/brought meals/ran errands)
  • the teachers and staff at school
  • blogging
  • my treadmill
  • Unitarian Universalism (the principles, my church, and the CLF community)
  • "Glee"
  • chocolate
  • holidays
  • autumn
  • my bread machine, electric mixer, immersion blender, and convection oven
  • hot tea
  • good scents (lavender, jasmine, orange and cinnamon, baking bread)
  • my smartphone
  • meditating and Buddhism
  • books, magazines, the NYTimes, and websites--reading and knowledge are key for keeping me engaged and inspired
  • the resources to keep everything going
  • my stuffed penguins and fluffy pink blanket
  • my historic house work (especially my costume!!!)
  • outings
  • Whole Foods
  • NYC
  • thoughts of snow

In the Bag

Getting ready for our five upcoming Halloween events by updating our trick-or-treat bags (not the best pictures--can't rotate them, had to photograph so their names wouldn't show, with low artificial rainy-day light!  You get the idea, which, by the way, I came up with independently--Martha copied me!!).


BFF Rules

According to our first graders:
  1. You don't have to have a best friend.  But it's nice.
  2. Not everyone has one.
  3. You can be best friends with more than one person.
  4. Siblings don't count!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Change of Control

There has been a change of power in our house:  Sis can now adroitly operate all the buttons on the cable remote control!  Combined with Bud's ability to operate the universal remote power and input buttons, I have lost my initial parental controls over the television.  At least right now, they limit their powers (which were enabled by their ability to read the labels on the flippers!) to fast-forwarding through the commercials of "Phineas and Ferb!"  But Mama, who is in charge of all things tech, is going to have to think about what other controls to put in place on the tv and even the computer eventually.

I knew their reading was going to eat away at my control!

One Flood in Bangkok

Sending thoughts and prayers to Bangkok, where almost all of Mama's extended family lives (in the large Chinese community).  The houses, businesses, and livelihoods of several of her family members, including her 95+ year old grandfather, are threatened by rising flood waters from weeks of rain, weakening (or sabotaged) levees, and strained dams.  The WHO worries about open sewers and malaria.  The flooding could continue for 6 weeks or more, with effects beyond that.

No Wait!

It's Christmas catalog season, have you noticed?  Everyday I get two or three, some from companies I've heard of, more from companies that bought my name from somewhere.  Some get glanced at; all go into the recycling bin.  Two this week caught my eye:  a catalog for SERRV, which supports homemade, fair trade, and nonprofit, and What on Earth? one of those cheap-junk collection.  Polar opposites of the shopping world, like Etsy vs. Amazon.  Here was a catalog supporting individuals in underdeveloped countries, people in villages with no jobs, or even people in our own country who are learning skills and supporting themselves.  All making beautiful, useful, unique items.  On the other hand, there was a catalog selling t-shirts, mugs, wall plaques, and the like of the cheapest materials for the cheapest prices.  No word about their workers, no doubt because its sourced from sweatshops in China and elsewhere, with poor working conditions, low wages, and unfair labor practices.  In fact in a way, that catalog leads to the need for the other, as multinational corporations undermine local economies and support unfair labor practices in the creation of crap, leaving families in need of work and help, as offered by SERRV . It becomes a vicious cycle:  we buy cheap, which supports poor wages and labor practices, and then our own jobs are downsized and outsourced so companies can compete with the cheap and make money, which leaves us having to save money and only buy cheap.  Of course, almost all of us do it--it's easy, popular, ubiquitous, affordable,, and also sometimes useful and even necessary.  I buy stuff from Amazon because it's cheap, easy, and instantly available; I bought a Christmas present from the crappy catalog last year because I thought it would make someone smile.  In both cases, I ignored or conveniently overlooked or was not fully conscious of the larger implications.

On Sunday, in a sermon on the UU first principle of the inherent worth and dignity of all people, our new consulting minister, Frances Sink, told a story about a four-way stop.  She arrived at an intersection at the same time as the car to her left (which, if I understand traffic laws correctly, means he had the right-of-way).  Being in a hurry, she raised her hand as if to say both "please wait" and "thanks" as she headed through the intersection.  And then she recognized the driver--it was someone in her congregation.  She was embarrassed.  She suddenly reexamined the moment and saw herself differently.  She had put herself before another, endangering them both if he had ignored her wave.  Why was she more important than him at that moment? Why did it matter that she knew him?  Are we only more respectful to those we know?  And finally, she came to a larger philosophical question:  "who has to wait so I can live my life?"

Who has to wait so I can live my  life?  Those words have sat with me since Sunday, reverberating through my thoughts and actions, both large and small.  I had hoped at one time to buy fair trade coffee and chocolate.  It's a goal that I've only partially accomplished because it can be hard to find or expensive.  So, the people, including children, practically enslaved on cocoa and coffee plantations have to wait for safety, health, dignity, fairness, and justice so I can have a cup of coffee or a snack?  Or, playing it forward, the health and safety of future generations will wait so we can have air-conditioning, plastics, and use of our cars now, thereby contributing to a host of environmental problems?  You can identify such patterns on almost any level, from international to local.  More personally, who around me has to wait?  Mama and the kids have all put things on hold so I can recover, particularly Mama, who is strained by  all of the responsibilities and stress of career, household, a chronically-injured spouse, and two young children.  Similarly, my family in Texas waits for us to visit--especially my sister and her husband with my "new" nearly one-year old niece that I've never seen.  No one complains about the sacrifices (perhaps because an injury is a "good" reason?  Or because they do it voluntarily, out of empathy and compassion?).  Or the disappointments.  But they're there.

Of course, waiting is a part of life and, in many instances, a good experience.  Especially when it's conscious and voluntary.  In fact, perhaps if we had more waiting, more patience, and less instant gratification with little things in our consumerist society, like toys or books or even coffee, others might not have to wait as long for the larger things like justice, health, etc (which is involuntary and coerced).  You know, spread the waiting around more equally.  I realize that our choices always effect others and the future, that someone is always at the top, more people at the bottom.  Like the Occupy Wall Street 99-percenters, I'd like to see the gap decrease, the inequality lessen, the negative effects minimized.  Even if we can't eliminate the bottom, so to speak, we can raise it up so that the 99% are not always waiting so the 1% can live their lives on the backs of everyone else.  (Yes, I'm pretty much a socialist.)  We can try to neutralize the negative.

Which boils down to my catalogs again:  I'm not going to satisfy any instant gratification of cheap stuff from the What on Earth? catalog so that both the workers in those factories and the artisans of SERRV have to wait to live better lives on my account.  And I'll be practicing expanding that to all areas of my life, being conscious and aware of when (and why) others wait on my behalf and making choices to minimize the ill effects.

Shop (and live) wisely . . . . no waiting!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Thanks, Mrs. S!

THANK YOU to Mrs. S for on the spur of the moment driving me to pick up the kids at school when Bud didn't feel well enough to ride the bus home.  Your kindness, generosity, and help were very appreciated!!!!  
(He feels better now.)

Here Be Dragons!

This morning while waiting for the bus, we had fun "blowing smoke" with our breaths in the cool air.  Who blows smoke?  Dragons!  So Sis was Toothless (How To Train Your Dragon) and Bud was Norbert (Harry Potter), while I was Puff and Mama was Pete's dragon, Elliot.  I'm sure we looked crazy to the neighbors heading to work and to the bus driver picking them up as we stomped around the driveway blowing smoke and waving our arms flying.

Another Golden Rule

From inspirational author and speaker Og Mandino,

"Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going
to be dead by midnight.
Extend to them all the care, kindness, and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward.
Your life will never be the same again."

Our Jellicle Cats

Our cats, Albus and Hermione, make brief appearances on this blog, usually with small walk-on parts.  But in real life, our cats are central to our family.  And they're quirky!  We watch them, laugh at them, talk about them, talk to them.  The kids try to pet them; both yearn for the day a cat will sit on their lap or sleep with them.  We worry when we find a hairball or can't find them, though we're extra careful (most of the time) to keep them off the porch and (hopefully) never outside.  They're our little black (and white) bundles of love and joy.

Albus likes to get up on high things and tap people on the heads with his paws; he also likes "head bonks," where he rubs his head against our foreheads, over and over (I think it's a marking behavior).  He loves a head bonk when I'm on the treadmill--he hears me start it up and comes running, hopping on the handlebars to demand some love.  His other favorite place:  the new dining room table, upon which he spreads out and then rolls repeatedly--to the point of falling right off!  Very undignified, but he always hops up and starts again and won't let Hermione anywhere near him.  He also tries to get outside on the porch, just for the change in scenery (or for chewing on plants or plastic!).  In addition to coming when the treats are rattled (as does his sister), he loves to get involved when we change the sheets (they both like attacking feet and each other from behind the bedskirt).  He likes Mama and I just fine, curling up next to me at least once a day and then sleeping with one or the other of us most nights (this week, both cats are sleeping as bookends to Mama, with Hermione complaining more loudly when Mama tries to move), but he's much more cautious about the kids.  Usually, he likes to be on a different floor, running upstairs when they come down and then vice versa.  Recently, though, he has approached one or the other child for a brief sniff.  He also likes to appear, meow several times, and then leave.

Hermione is much more social, often coming to greet any guests, staying if they're adults predisposed to give pets.  She also lets the kids pet her.  She'll even sleep in their vicinity, on the back of the glider in the living room, ignoring their comings and goings (but no doubt fully aware).  Right now, she's asleep on my thigh.  She's not as territorial as Albus is about the table, but she does get defensive about being on my bolster which is hers and hers alone, as is the top of the bookcase in the sunny "cat room" window.  She had been really quiet, except for a few trills and some motor-like purring, but she's picking up chatting from her brother.  When she wants attention, instead of bonking us on the head, she stretches up our legs.  Another odd habit:  she drinks at her kitty fountain sideways; we think it's so she can see her reflection (Albus prefers the faucet).  She's much more relaxed, despite her plastic-eating habit, and doesn't try to get out as much.  She even lets him push her out of the way at meals.

However,  occasionally, she'll jump him and they'll fight.  When they knock each other off something like a cat tree, the kids call it "a kitty coup."  Mama and I call it "slap kitty" because they rear up on their hind legs and go at it like rutting moose or something.  They do love to tussle, sometimes with hissing, and lots of thundering up and down the stairs.  Both love chasing furry catnip mouse toys and will jump high in the air after one, if our toss is good; otherwise, they just seem to stare (they also like watching prism rainbows and trying to catch them).  Hermione is the better jumper, but Albus actually fetches and returns mice to the thrower (or whomever he wants to play with!), when he's not hoarding them by stuffing them under the couches.   They both love kneading on stuffed animals, particularly a couple of penguins I use as side pillows.  Hermione drools when she gets that excited.

In the end, like most cats, they sleep a lot, choosing the oddest places (we call this "the softest spot in the house," even if sometimes it isn't), in the oddest lumpy positions (covering cold noses or paws), and "stopping the progress of the world" by keeping us from doing anything but pet them.

As Mama and I have often said, we'd love to come back as cats in a lesbian household.  Luckily, these cats don't mind that the household has kids.  May they be with us many more years . . . .

One Child Left Behind

If last week had a theme, it would've been "one child left behind."  Both Sis and Bud experienced some twin separation anxiety, which caused not a little upset.

For two days last week, Bud and I were home together because he's had a fever (he has a head cold but is back in school).  In many ways, we both enjoyed our alone time together.  We had time to leisurely enjoy activities that he chose without coordinating, compromising, or sharing with Sis.  Legos, books, music, chess, even laughing through their new favorite show "Phineas and Ferb."  It was more peaceful because there was no fighting, bickering, negotiating, payback, blaming.  But as the lows weren't as low, the highs weren't as high.  Bud missed Sis and wondered what she was doing and when she'd be home.  As for Sis, she coped with being alone at school and also demonstrated lots of empathy by making him penguin art projects each morning before she left (while he was still asleep), bringing home a pumpkin and a scarecrow just for him (she chose the crow one that was black like a penguin), checking on him, treating him gently (letting him sleep in, etc).

Turnaround happened over the weekend when Sis struggled with stopping kung fu class.  She doesn't really like kung fu as much as Bud, having challenges converting her left-handedness to right, being much smaller even than the weapons she has to use, following movements precisely (left-right, clockwise and counter, doing more than one motion at a time, i.e. not hands and feet simultaneously--all just like me!  I'm completely unable to follow dance steps fully and correctly), struggling with imperfection and embarrassment when she makes mistakes.  She's given it her best through two belts and a competition.  If she wanted to stop now (we really try not to say "quit"), we'd support her.  But she was devastated at knowing that Bud would continue without her,  would learn things she didn't, would do something she didn't.  When it came down to it, she just couldn't stop and will continue kung fu, for now.

We haven't spent much energy researching twin dynamics, feeling that with boy-girl/fraternal twins, we had less to worry about because we believed they would develop separate personalities and strengths without being constantly confused with each other.  But we overlooked how bonded they are.  They are always together--at home, at school, at kung fu, at church.  They seek each other out and don't want to be apart, despite disagreements when they are together.  Have separate bedrooms?  They fear sleeping alone.  Take separate classes?  They prefer being in class together over being separated like last year.  The only thing they do truly separately--Sis goes to Girl Scouts twice a month--causing enormous pain for Bud, who feels left behind, jealous, sad, all the things Sis couldn't cope with about stopping kung fu.  Sometimes we split up and each mom takes a child, but that's temporary and irregular--and they've really come to prefer not splitting up.  And, while they have differences in personalities, they don't really explore separate interests, liking the same shows, games, activities, etc.

As Mom, it's hard to watch them struggle in separation, to see them hurt, to know it's necessary even while it's painful, to wonder how I could now or could have made it easier.  I have always been thrilled to have twins--not because I got "a whole, perfect family--a boy and a girl--in one shot," as so many people say--but because I liked having two together (and no, I don't know if it's "double trouble" and I have no comment when people say they wouldn't want twins or couldn't handle it), to know they'd have the special twin bond. But spending two whole days with Bud, I realize what we've all missed (and I instantly wanted to give Sis our own two days with her home!).  Of course, second and other children never really get that alone time either, until they're older; depending on the age spread, older kids might not remember being alone.  Though age differences (especially compounded by gender differences) create their own separate "alone times" and independence.  I don't have any answers; I'm not even done digesting it all.  Even with this new clarity, I feel the bonuses of twindom outweigh the disadvantages for us.  It's just been a teachable moment for all of us to consider how we'll all go forward separately and together.

But probably mostly together.

Monday, October 24, 2011

My Body, My Son

Bud is amazingly flexible.  "Gumby," we call him.  He was always floppy and now he can do full splits or a full back bend with little effort.  Plus a one-handed cartwheel and the beginnings of a headstand.

I know where he gets it, though I never could do those things.  Neither of us crawled on our own well and we were both late walkers, signs of low muscle tone and hyperflexibility, both resulting in weak cores.  So my problems started before I could crawl, because I didn't really crawl--Gommie tells stories of taking me out of my walker (it was the 1970s, after all) and trying to force me to crawl, about which I was apparently most displeased.  I don't think it ever really took.  Fast forward a few decades, with early interventions, and we had specialists teaching Bud to learn to crawl and walk.    He will always be floppy; the key is to try to get and keep him strong, something I never managed, giving up on my body for books.

My new PT is as enlightening as my previous one.  I'm learning more about the effects of a weak core--basically, it affects everything.  My challenge is strengthening a core that has been damaged, not just weakened, with surgeries, scar tissue, and tears.  Hopefully, what I learn about my body will help my son with his.

He also got my family's nervous stomach.  Poor boy.

Signs of the Season

Crunchy, (somewhat) colorful leaves.
Visible breaths in the morning cool.
More-solid-than-usual coconut oil that is hardening as it cools down outside.
"Do you have your jacket?" added to my morning litany.
Cleaning off the radiators for when we turn on the heat (soon).

An Omen?

I was purchasing a book at the museum on Saturday and flipping through some little silver charms at the register. You know, the one with little images and inspirational words.  I came across an infinity symbol in a handprint, similiar to the "heart in hand" symbol that I like so well.  And on the back was written the word "healing."  It's in my pocket now.

Once Upon a Time....

We went to the Florence Griswold museum this weekend to see their fall family-friendly exhibition of fairy-tale birdhouses arrayed across the scenic grounds (yes, it's where we saw the fairy houses two years ago).  These fantastic, whimsical artistic creations, more sculpture than shelter, depicted aspects of well- and little-known fairy tales.

And thankfully, we'd spent the week shoring up our knowledge of fairy tales by reading a couple every night.  Because the kids haven't seen most of the Disney movies, the stories of Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and the like were new to them.  But even if they'd seen the movies, these were different versions--no, not the PC or feminist versions out there--the traditional gross, violent, harshly just Grimms and Anderson versions, with the blinding of Sleeping Beauty's prince, the burning-at-the-stake of the witch tormenting Snow White, the torturous hot-iron shoes of Cinderella's stepmother, the sacrificial death of the Little Mermaid, etc. Sis said, "Mom, are all fairy tales so wicked?'

Yes, yes, they are.

But that's the point.  Children on their own (which is why the parents are dead or even oppressive) navigate their quests through a scary, harsh world full of good and evil and usually triumph (sometimes with sacrifices or help).  Consider their origins.  Of course, it's not real, because of the magic, but the notions of good and evil are perhaps accurate in that they exist, have power, and also a remote chance of winning (which they don't, often, in sanitized versions).    However, the stories aren't perfect.  Again, consider their origins.  We had to address the sexism, racism, and entitlement in the stories, with Jack stealing from the giants and Hansel and Gretel eating the witch's house and the rescues of several of the helpless women.  We also learned a few things:  don't take food from strangers; 16 is a dangerous age for girls; and cleverness really helps.  

They knew most of the stories as we wandered searching for the birdhouses.  My favorite was an elaborate wooden creation with straw, gold thread, and a tower, all built on a real spinning wheel.  Yep, Rumpelstiltskin.  Sis liked the birdhouse of Little Red Riding Hood, but only because there was a bunny hidden in the woods.  Bud preferred the Wizard of Oz (which we hadn't read but I'd told them the bare essentials), complete with Dorothy's house on the Witch with the red slippers and a yellow road leading through poppies to an Emerald City.  Mama liked the Owl and the Pussycat, with its detailed interior decoration inside a guitar, compete with photos of the lovebirds.  We also enjoyed meeting the artist of the Country Mouse and the City Mouse and talking to her about her creative process; she also read the story to a group of kids.

We had picked up a great little lunch beforehand, from a cafe run by Laotian refuges--Mama loved the pho and two kinds of rolls (fresh and fried).  But we grew hungry during our ramblings and picked up a cheese platter (mmm, Winsleydale!  Bud liked it too), cookies (lime in Lyme!), and brownies at the museum.  We even got ice cream afterwards--chocolate and strawberry, of course, plus pumpkin and ginger (very citrusy and fresh).

Our fairy-tale adventure actually ended the next day as we watched Into the Woods, the Sondheim musical merging several stories.  The kids enjoyed identifying the characters and the plots ("What story is the baker?" Sis wanted to know) hummed along to the tunes, but didn't see the second act because, well, Mama and I weren't ready to explain how everything gets messed up and then fixed, in its own way.  Some other weekend.  We finished the weekend by reading Eloise, a modern fairy tale included among the birdhouses.  The kids seemed nonplussed by, even uninterested in, Eloise's precocious ways at the Plaza.  Thank goodness.

Because fairy tales are fun to read but no one really wants to live in one . . . especially the traditional ones!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Sick Day, Or He Won Fair and Square!

And he was so proud!

I was, too.

(But I obviously need to practice.)

(And, yes, that's our HP chess set.)

I'm Gonna be SuperBetter!

I've been invited to join SuperBetter, the social network focused on healing that was featured on NPR.  It's in Beta, so I'm excited to get to explore and experiment with it now.  And it's great!  I have a secret identity (it's a secret!) and have been building my secret headquarters, complete with quests, missions, my epic win, power-ups, and bad guys.  Thank goodness Mama Hungry knows all this game lingo!  I've even started adding a few allies (but some of the invitations are getting stuck in the ether).  They get secret identities too!  (I'm not too organized, like all Harry Potter or Star Wars.  I'm just doing inspiring and inspired women, real or imagined.)  There's a secret lab with science cards containing real research on the psychology of healing and also Power Packs you can download with tools for fighting stress or losing weight.  I'm loving it and have completed some things, like walking 30 minutes straight on my treadmill and talking to friends, all of which increase my resilience score.  And it's only the first full day!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Why Is It?

Why is it that illness seems to come on days you least want to miss?  Bud has 103.5 at last check (4 a.m.) and will be home from school today.  I will miss coffee with friends and my first costumed work at the historical house.  He will miss a very special after-school Girl Scout family field trip to the pumpkin farm.  I'm disappointed, but he's going to be devastated.  And that's not healing at all.  I'll be grateful he didn't miss Picture Day or Halloween parties next week, but just barely . . . .I'll be extra thankful that it's just a normal cold.  (And Sis was over hers in 24 hours this weekend).

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Baker of Amherst

While I'm not specifically a fan of Emily Dickinson (ever since her poetry was ruined for me--read this explanation at your own risk!), I was delighted to read that she loved to bake and that some of her surviving letters accompanied baked treats sent to friends.  Some of her verse is written on the back of baking chocolate.  There's even a coconut cake recipe!  I might just have to try it, though I doubt I'll dip it in sherry.  Maybe it will help me forget my previous obstacles.

Signs of the Times?

My cousin J studied graphic design in college and spent one trip across country comparing the signs on trucks that warned others that they made right turns.  He was fascinated by the different ways this information was conveyed visually.  I once took a course with Edward Tufte, who specializes in the graphic conveyance of information.

Well, cousin J and Tufte would love this post on the sign (signified? signifier?  Oh, it's been so long since Saussure has come up in my life!) of bathroom labels by Marissa on Sociological Images at The Society Pages (thanks to Mombian for posting about it).  Her "Go Where? Sex, Gender, and Toilets" collects and categorizes the different ways we label our bathrooms and what that means--the universal male, anatomy, the performance of gender through clothing (and actual pieces of said clothing!), and weird signifiers like chickens and flames.  It's a fascinating cross-cultural examination of something very few of us (especially cis people who, unlike trans people, experience a synchronicity of their bodies, identities, and genders assigned at birth) really notice.  With lots of great images!  (And you can Google "bathroom signs" for even more examples.)

I don't think I'll ever look at bathroom signs indifferently again.

Rainy Day Wednesday

It's dark in the house, with the chill air dancing through the open windows to the constant tune of the drumming rain.  One of my favorite kinds of days.  With a rare 100% chance of rain today--really, how often do they just commit to 100%?--and the tossing around of the term "Nor'easter," I've put a pot of vegetable soup on the stove and will be making cornbread later today.  Perfect fall weather food.  Otherwise, I'm just lounging in the slow rhythm of the weather.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Thank You

Just wanted to send a quick shout-out to Milli, her husband, and daughters out on the other coast!  Thanks for being my ally!


Sis was asking me a question about one of her DS games, which means she was really stuck because I never have the right answer.  She passed the console to me so that I could figure out what Hello Kitty needed to do to leave the store.  As I tried to maneuver through the displays, I kept bumping into things.  "Mom," she said gently, "you usually go around furniture."


The kiddos were telling me all about school last week. And they both agreed it was great to be in the same class.   Sis said it was because they could be together.  Bud said it was because they could help each other (with things they forget!).


"Look, we're twins!" Bud cried out.  Except he wasn't talking about Sis.  Nope, it was Mama.  Both of them were in a striped long-sleeved shirt, beige pants, and a belt, with their very short haircuts.  He was so thrilled to look like her and posed for pictures with her before heading to school for picture day.  He called himself "mini-Mama."


Hoping to Have Hope

I  was busy with medical stuff all morning.  First a pelvic ultrasound to rule out any gyn issues causing back pain.  The less said about this the better, which you understand if you've had one.  Though, it was funny not  to see two little fetuses on the screen!  Also, I've decided you feel ill or injured coming out of those exams even if nothing is wrong (which you don't know until later!), especially when the tech tells the other tech, "Oh, be sure to get a picture of that."  Sigh.)

But I had a great visit to a new physical therapist who focuses on women's bodies, especially pelvic issues.  She noted immediately that my sacrum and tailbone are in torque, turning up and to the right (with the tailbone bent into my glutes).  The ligaments are all very tight, doing their best to protect the joints after the disc herniations and years of musco-skeletal issues (actually, a lifetime--40 years of wear from undiagnosed and untreated scoliosis, leg differential, and low muscle tone because of the hyperflexibility).  This makes a ton more sense than the physiatrists and neurosurgeon not able to figure out how the disc was causing tailbone pain and guessing at tests, diagnoses, and treatments.  So, if I understand it correctly, we have to loosen the ligaments, realign the sacrum and coccyx, and then strengthen the muscles.  At least it's a plan.  A much better plan than more useless injections.  It would also explain why the steroid pills helped when the injections didn't.  In fact, it explains a lot--why sitting causes pain that feels like muscle pain not nerve pain, why my back feels stronger even though my tailbone doesn't, why the tailbone pain corresponded to the disc herniations, why the tiny little hernia tear and protrusion don't explain the pain, why lying on my back and walking too much cause discomfort after awhile (when they didn't always, even after herniated discs).  Occam's razor at work, I'd say.

So, I'm very hopeful.  It makes sense.  There's an actionable plan of treatment and exercises.  I'm thinking about giving PT some time before we pursue any more neurology specialists, to rule out the musco-skeletal issues before chasing nerves and discs again.  Especially because I'm increasingly disenchanted with the specialists we've been seeing.  And really hopeful about this.  Which is a very nice change.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Egg Under the Fridge

There is a broken egg under my refrigerator right now.  I dropped it as I put the carton away, and it broke right under the edge of the vent.  The yolk luckily didn't break.  But I can't bend over to clean it up.  And I don't want the kids to make more of a mess (i.e. break the yolk that would then run under the fridge because our floor tilts).  So I've dropped a paper towel on it to sop up the white until Mama Hungry can come home.  It's a tangible reminder of my very human limitations.  We all have them.  And I find I have to work with them, to accept them, in me and in everyone, which means sometimes eggs get broken.  And left under the fridge . . .

Hi Miss K!

Just in case you drop by today!  Glad you came for a visit.  Have fun looking around (especially because I think I've hidden all references to you, because of the advanced warning!)

Grocery Challenge Update

Piggybacking on Beauty that Moves's grocery challenge, I've been examining the way our family shops, cooks, and eats.  And eats out.  We've been meal planning for a bit now and find that it helps in numerous ways.  After talking with Mama, we're revamping a few things.  First, we're splitting up shopping--I'm hoping to do the staples during the week, with Driver or another friend, while she picks up the organic produce and meats from WF, since our local stores are lacking, on weekends.  We're also altering the categories of our entrees to include two new ones:  Slow-Cooker Sunday (to work around church now being at 4:30 pm) and "Family Recipe Night," which will feature a Gommie or Ma/Gong favorite recipe from our childhoods for the kids to try (we figure it we say a grandma made it that the kids are more likely to give it a chance!).  So our categories are now:

  • Slow-Cooker Sunday
  • Family Recipe Night (the new dish)
  • Pasta
  • Baked or sauteed dish
  • Soup/Stew
  • Breakfast for dinner
  • Leftovers/Take-out
And even while we ate out a lot last week--well, Mama and I did for lunch because it was date week--we managed to cook through everything we bought without wasting anything.  This is progress.  We're also accepting that, especially now, we won't be processed-free, as much as we might aspire to it (like the family of 100 Days of Real Foods).   But we're buying the organic, natural (read "expensive") versions--meatballs, soup, breakfast waffles, macaroni and cheese--to supplement our homemade things.  And each week we make progress.  Like, we now usually have 2-3 nights meat-free, instead of just Mondays (and sometimes, it's not Mondays).  Tonight is Pumpkin Penne, I think.  Or breakfast for dinner.

Next week, we'll focus on the financial side of meal planning.


Mama has started her first yarn project--this easy Amigurumi cat from Lion Brand.  It's a few simple single-crocheted rectangles, four legs, and a few other details.  I'm really impressed that she's picked up the stitch so fast (I can hear her, under her breath, chanting "Swish and Flick" from Harry Potter!), but she's struggling with tension--"I either have too many fingers or not enough!"  We upped the hook size (for3 mm to 4 mm) to make it easier.  It'll come along.  And then I imagine she'll be off, making penguins, bunnies, hedgehogs, pandas, turtles, who knows what!  I'm proud of you . . . just quit eyeing my yarn stash.

Three Huzzahs!

As you know, we travel back to the Renaissance every chance we get (posts include 2010, 2009, 2008 twice).  We went again this weekend--this time to the Connecticut Renaissance Faire.  Sis dressed up as a  knight, with her red velvet cloak and shield and battle ax.  Bud wore a brown t-shirt and a rope-belt, carrying his wu shu (kung fun) staff, as "Little John."  They jumped right in amid all the costumed characters and chaos that is a ren fest, not minding as they have in the past.  The joust--with the Duchess of Orkney and  her dog "Piglet"--was the kids' favorite performance, followed by the belly dancers!  (Later, they would reenact the dancing lady with the sword on her head at home with Legos!)  They also remembered and  headed straight for the games--smack the rat, frog fling, beanbag toss, and such, each winning a small plastic magic wand.  These came in handy later when one of those costumed characters--a masked man with feathery bird features who pecked and squeaked--unsettled them (sound familiar, Gommie and Aunt Banana?  Though, the witch at that festival came back more than once before Gommie had to run her off!).  Mama sensed their increasing anxiety and said, "Go get'em!"  Channeling Harry Potter, Bud whipped out his wand and yelled, "Petrificus totalus!"  Sis was right beside him, casting her own spells.  The Owl Man smartly surrendered and departed.  Bud and Sis were very proud.  Sis was still empowered later when a character called her "princess" and she contradicted, "No!  I'm a knight!" and brandished her muscles.  It was our turn to be proud!

Show and Tell

The kids had been excited for two weeks--their assigned show-and-tell day was Friday!  In preschool and even kindergarten, show and tell was more informal, whenever they had something they wanted to talk about  (like sticks actually chewed on by beavers, or a map of the exhibition of fairy houses at a museum we visited); first grade is more formal, with assigned days every now and again.  Having listened to classmates share critters, jewelry, toys, and the like, they planned and plotted about what they would  take, what they would say.  Bud chose his kung fu trophy, after considering and  deciding against Mr. Big, his giant penguin.  Sis picked Amy the Bunny instead of Shirt, not wanting to risk losing or  getting more holes in him (yes, it's a him).  She even researched Amy, asking us where she'd come from, how long we'd had her, how she got  her.  She relayed this to the class, "I've had Amy the Bunny since before I was born!"  I'm not really sure what else she said, or what Bud mentioned.  I think he talked about how he was the first kid in his class to win a trophy, it being for the white-belt forms.  Sis was nervous beforehand about talking before the other kids and also having to keep her beloved bunny in the coat closet all day.  Bud was very careful to carry his trophy in a box and not to drop or misplace it.  Everything went well and both special items came home safely.  

In fact, I had been as excited as they were about their first official show and tell.  I loved show and tell.  I couldn't tell you what I took (though in senior English, we made memory boxes with lots of items and presented them;  scheduled for 10 minutes each, we all took 30+ minutes, so serious and self-involved were we as 18 year olds!  I think the pink-cat-paper-wrapped box is still in Gommie's cedear chest.), but I remember how special sharing something of myself with my classmates and teacher was.  Then it occurred to me:  this blog is my adult show and tell, fulfilling my desire to express and share about myself and my life.  Sincere.  Narcissistic.  Personal.  Quirky.  I guess I never outgrew the rush of expressing myself.  Do we ever?  But modern social media perhaps provides more venues for such indulgence than ever before.  I wonder about the meanings and repercussions of that . . obvious for 6 year olds, and probably the same for 40 year olds!

Which explains why I almost went to watch them give their first presentations! 

Parenting Today

"Parenting, I’ve come to understand, is about loving my child today. Now. In fact, for any parent, anywhere, that’s all there is."

--from Emily Rapp, "Notes from a Dragon Mom," about loving her son Ronan, who will likely die of Tay-Sachs before he is three

Yes, you'll cry.  But read it anyway.  It's wonderful and beautiful in its ferocious way.  Just like a dragon. 

(And if you want to read other essays by this professor of creative writing, she blogs on Open Salon at "Little Seal.")

Sunday, October 16, 2011

It's Been a Few Days . . .

 . . . which is almost an eternity on this blog!  Everything's okay just busy.  The fun kind of busy, like
  • CT Renaissance Faire
  • school show and tell
  • Amigurumi
  • Gommie and Pop in CO
  • first service in the new church building
More tomorrow.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Coming Attraction

I was happily surprised to come across this article and trailer for Glenn Close's "passion project," Albert Nobbs, which we've been waiting for since last December.  I imagine the story doesn't end well, but the film looks wonderful--Close, Janet McTeer, lesbians, passing, 19th-century Britain--what's not to like?

Time in Stitches

I finally took up needle and thread to explore stitchery, having bought supplies and books months ago.  But with birthdays and tooth fairies and holidays coming up, and the need for some creative, positive distraction, I finally started today.  I got the button and embroidery idea from a "button-embellished greeting card" in Martha Stewart's new book, Holiday Crafts.  And I'm really pleased with the results.  Both tangibly and intangibly . . . .

Doctor Update

I just spoke to my doctor--he is as stumped and discouraged as I am.  He thinks this is probably beyond his specialty of physiatry and so I'll go next to a neurologist, to investigate nerve damage in the region (possibly with an "uncomfortable" EMG, or nerve/muscle electrical test) or whatever else it might be (but not something like fibromyalgia because the pain is so localized and focused).  I asked for physical therapy, too, because, well, I always like PTs.  He told me to quit trying to sit, even for a minute.

So, now, breathe in, breathe out.  Nothing has changed, beyond the knowledge that injections don't help.  I'm not worse off.  We'll make a few adjustments and keep going . . . .


A week ago I had two transforaminal steroid injections.

And they don't really seem to have helped.

Well, I have gone from sitting about 5 seconds to sitting closer to 60 seconds.  But it's nothing like the two hours my doctor predicted.  And last night was the worst night I've had in weeks--because of my attempts at sitting? fluctuating hormones? wet, cool weather?  Who knows.

Sure, the cortisone hasn't reached full effect (that's about a week out) and sure 60 seconds is better than 5, but I had hoped for 15 minutes.  So I could eat a meal at the table, ride in the car sitting in a seat, eventually go to the dentist and the hairdresser.  I'm very disappointed; I'll be devastated if there is no more real improvement.  Another d-word for the situation:  despair.

I haven't talked to the doctor yet, actually, because his office has lost power due to the rain and is closed.  Good thing my injection wasn't today!  I imagine he'll be mystified.  And will suggest nerve root-blocking medicines like Lyrica.  I'm very hesitant to go that route.  But I will consider it.  Along with all the alternative therapies I've been lining up in the event that the injection didn't help.

Meanwhile, I've signed up for a special online retreat with American Buddhist Pema Chodron, entitled "Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change."  I definitely have uncertainty and change, but I'm not sure I'm living with it beautifully.  I vacillate between isolation and contemplation, frustration and acceptance, overwhelmed and keeping perspective, whining and coping, sadness and hope.  The physical pain has nothing on the mental suffering . . . .except when I see it all as a huge gift.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Not Night-Night

As you might have gathered, Mama and I are pretty strict when it comes to bedtime.  Without fail, barrring the rarity of special social outings or family events, the kids are in bed by 7:30 p.m..  A church supper or school movie starts at 7?  Not gonna go.  We've even been known to skip bathing and shorten stories to get in bed on time.  This bedtime obsession stems from our firm belief, drawn from experience, that getting a full night's sleep is the most important thing for our kids on a daily basis.  They can compensate for mediocre meals or a skipped bath, cope with not getting outside playtime or rushing through homework, or any other parenting failure/lapse/oversight/laziness once in a while.  But if they don't get enough sleep, they don't function well.  For days. It's immediate and absolute.  They're crabby and argumentative, lose focus and creativity, are prone to injury and tears and illness.  Few evenings of fun are worth that price, especially as we read about studies showing the loss of IQ points after weekend sleep shifts and the negative effects of not enough (like the whole phenomenon of modern teenagerhood).   We all have our things; this is ours.

Which is why I'm amazed that there is now a nighttime television show for kids.  By Jim Henson's company, no less.  Called "Pajanimals," the  show is intended to help little kids go to sleep.  Seriously?  I know adults will nod off to the late night shows, but have you ever seen a child fall asleep watching tv?  Ever?  Not me.  They fight sleep, prop their own eyes open, kick themselves black and blue to stay awake--it's happened here at rest time on numerous occasions.

Anyway, in full disclosure, I haven't seen the show at all and will not be screening it for Sis and Bud.  But I loved the review in the NYTimes, which focused on one line in one episode of the show--"Blankie will be safe with Mom."  If you have a child with a blankie, had a blankie yourself, are a mom, or even just have a mom, go read the review for a wonderful laugh.  I promise it won't put you to sleep.

(Note to my own mom, who did throw away one of my childhood blankies:  I'm not rubbing salt in that guilty wound on purpose!  But my second childhood blankie is safe under my bed . . . . )

A Different Kind of Mommy Blog

In reflecting on how I see my blog, about which I just posted, I find myself reading blogs more than ever before.  Sure, I have more time on my hands now than I have since I was pregnant (when I read infertility-turned pregnancy-turned mommy blogs like So Close, A Little Bit Pregnant, and Here Be Hippogriffs), but I enjoy following blogs and also want the information they contain--either updates on RL (for Gommie:  that's  "real life") friends or family or recipes, craft tips, household management info, inspiration, etc.

Over and over again these days I'm drawn to one type of blog:  professional organized mommy-homesteader blogs!  Okay, I made up the category myself, but I don't know how else to describe usually SAHM and homeschooling (frequently rural) moms who are dedicated to natural living, all things homemade, beautiful photography, and often some kind of blog-based business.  Now, that doesn't describe all of the blogs below, but it's close (and for those it doesn't apply to, my guess is the greater part of the readership is in this category).  Of course, I'm not quite in that category--a SAHM but not homeschooler, not rural but interested in DIY and natural living, and not a member of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints (LDS) or a Christian church (yep, that's another big part of it sometimes, the glorification of motherhood and the Proverbs 31 wife.  See this NPR feature on "Biblical Womanhood" and the blogger who tried to live it.), but I like is the general interest in family, home, homemade, and doing everything as efficiently and mindfully  as possible.  Not because it is biblically proscribed, but because I enjoy it and find value in it and am good at it.   As one feminist, non-LDS writer in Salon described of her Mormon Mommy Blog obsession,
But the basic messages expressed in these blogs — family is wonderful, life is meant to be enjoyed, celebrate the small things — are still lovely. And if they help women like me envision a life in which marriage and motherhood could potentially be something other than a miserable, soul-destroying trap, I say, “Right on.”  
And that's how I feel about my recent blog reading, too, which includes these new additions: 
Next up, Lesbian Mommy Blogs!!

What Blog Is This?

Thinking on Mama's constant refrain, "What is your goal?", I've been reflecting on this blog recently.  What kind of blog is this?  It's not a standard Mommy Blog, if that means a blog oriented to providing tips, ideas, product reviews, etc or detailing the lives of our children.  Of course I am a mommy and that colors everything I do and write about, including some of those things some of the time.  It is technically a Lesbian Mommy Blog, in that I'm a lesbian and a mommy,  but I doubt you would gather much about LGBT issues except the occasional rant.  It's not a foodie blog or a craft blog, though I do include recipes and some crafts.  But there's little in the way of original projects.  I also rehash news and information I find elsewhere. Overall, I wax philosophical on what interests me, kind of an essay version of Pinterest.  I've tried writing other blogs geared towards niche cooking (of beans!) and another on museums and children, but both were too focused to hold my interest for long.  And since I blog for fun and remembrance, expression and exploration--not for branding, marketing, blog-based business, publishing a book, or to garner a huge audience--I want it to be interesting to me, which means combining a lot of different topics.  All of which is to say, for those of you still here, thanks for joining me on this wacky, random blog adventure of mine!

Boo You!

It's that time of year again when ghosts and goblins haunt the streets and sidewalks leaving bags of goodies at the doors of the unsuspecting.

We were BOOed last night by a friendly ghost who left bags of treats and toys for Sis and Bud, who were thrilled beyond measure to be thus haunted.  And so today for our outing, Mama and I headed to the store to stockpile black and orange trinkets to distribute to a few friends (with fake teeth being specified, in addition to the ubiquitous candy).  We'll be haunting later this week!

Let the holidays begin!

(And in case you were in doubt, there were actually Christmas decorations at our two stops this morning!  We should come up with a mash-up moniker for the continuum of Halloween-Thanksgiving-Christmas . . . Hallgivmas?).

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Special Week

It's a special week here at the Hungry household because Mama is working from home during online training.  What's special is that there will be time in the morning and at lunch for outings together!  It's like a whole date week.  This morning, we did Whole Foods for the week's groceries and then a quick stop at the bookstore (mainly for magazines and coffee).  I love spending time with Mama and getting out of the house.  And we might have a few special lunches!  It's like my own vacation.  And she's very happy not to do her almost two-hour commute everyday.

Monday, October 10, 2011


With fall and winter (apparently) approaching, I've been giving a lot of thought to minor respiratory illnesses, especially because Sis has been sniffling all weekend.  We are not big cold and flu remedy users, relying more on humidifiers, warm tubs, cool nights, saline spray, popsicles, honey, and soup.  But I've seen posts all over recently that take home-health remedies several steps further, from our Chicago friend's post on her friend's "flu-curing tea" to Beauty that Moves's post on resources and Fimby's own herbal stockpile.  Our own pediatrician advocates the homeopathic remedy, oscillococcinum (millions of pills made from one goose liver in France!).

Do you have a favorite tonic or treatment for what ails you?

The Grocery Challenge

Beauty that Moves blogger Heather Bruggeman has set herself a challenge this month:  cutting her grocery bill in half!  Citing her reasons and the specifics here, Heather invited her readers along for the challenge.  I thought it was a great opportunity to take a closer look at our grocery budget and meal planning, which is still a new habit for us.  Without trying to specifically slash our own budget in half, I am trying to cook out of the freezer and pantry more this week.  This means pasta (white beans and spaghetti, cauliflower and spaghetti), oatmeal (cooked oatmeal, granola), and soup (leek and potato, butternut and apple)--all relatively easy and uncomplicated, with ingredients I have in stock.

But the larger grocery challenge (that Heather herself embraces) is the one that I pose, with varying success, to us every month:  local, seasonal, homemade, organic, whole foods as unprocessed as possible.  Some weeks we do better than others.  So far in October, I give us a low B (hmm, if A- is an Asian F, what is a B-?).  With my injections and recovery, we've been doing a little bit more processed food and take-out than usual.  But I found motivation in the oddest of places-- a physical anthropologry/evolutionary biology treatise on the meaning of cooking for the evolution of human beings,  Catching Fire:  How Cooking Made Us Human by Harvard primatologist Richard Wrangham.  To summarize it succinctly, cooked foods gave our remote ancestors more energy because they could digest them more easily which in turn allowed them to have smaller guts but bigger brains more geared to social interactions.  Voila, modern humanity (by way of the campfires, pair-bonding, and kinship groups).  There's more to it than that--lots of great stuff about the biology of raw foodists (who would die in the wild), how chimpanzees and gorillas differ in their eating habits, the archaeology of fire control, the evolution of the division of labor by sex (and why women do the household cooking in all societies!) and how cooking established the always uneven economic relationship of men and women, even the physics of digestion and how cooking plays a huge part.  I highly recommend it.

In the epilogue, Wrangham takes on what this means for us today, that mainly our evolutionary predisposition to prefer and efficiently utilize cooked, refined, high-energy foods has led to the so-called obesity epidemic. What was great for our ancestors is no longer good for us.  And while he wouldn't advocate the Evo or Paleo diet (which he dispatches in the very first chapter), Wrangham implies that less refined, whole foods are what will give us another 1,000,000+ years at the top of the food chain. (And he doesn't begin to touch environmental sustainability. . . .)

And that's a grocery challenge, for sure.

My View

Letting the Memory Live Again

While Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was my first  musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Phantom of the Opera was my favorite (and Sunset Boulevard with Glenn Close was the most amazing and Whistle Down the Wind was the most awful), Cats is the one I have the strongest memories of:  from the junkyard sets to the feline dancing, from "Jellicle Cats" to "Mr. Mistoffles," "Skimpleshanks the Railway Cat" to "Memory," from singing it to my first cats Curiosity and Fudgie to seeing the marquee at the Winter Garden for the first several years I lived in NYC.  Interestingly, Mama had never seen it--18 years on Broadway and she never went!--and barely knows the music, except of course the showstopper "Memory."

So yesterday was a treat for all of us when we watched the DVD of the London production with Elaine Page (though, I'm partial to Betty Buckley, of the Broadway cast).  The kids were mesmerized by the costumes and dancing, a little confused by some of Eliot's poetry, and concerned about McCavity the criminal cat and which cat would be chosen to go to the Heavyside Layer.  (I don't think they noticed all the sexual innuendo, especially of Rum Tum Tugger, or, if they didn't, couldn't make sense of it.  Thank heavens!)

Despite having seen it before, it was practically a new show for me.  I saw meaning I didn't notice amid all the fun when I was 12.  And maybe because I'm now closer to the Heavyside Layer myself and "can smile at the old days," it was more emotional.  But just as much fun, especially to introduce the kids to a show I've sung along to for almost 30 years (though I still can't hear "Memory" without getting all blubbery!).  And so today, they've been following our own jellicle cats around, while singing "Oh, well, I never, was there ever, a cat so clever as magical Mr. Mistoffles?"!

Now we'll just have to wait for it to come back to Broadway (because live is the best way to see Broadway, not on close-up DVDs which kinda undermine the magic of the theater) . . . it's Cats, so it's bound to have some more lives left!

Of Heat and Holidays

It's 80F something here in Connecticut, almost unheard of (and record-breaking, yesterday).  To my mind, it's out of sync with the three-day weekend, which should be fall and pumpkins and Halloween prep.  Instead, we're inside, thinking of air-conditioning!  Still, you can't argue with the weather.  So, inside, we've created our own NYC with Legos, draw bunnies and penguins, decorated orange paper pumpkins for the windows, made muffins for "Muffin Monday" (a new, sometime-tradition, like "Meatless Monday"), discussed the various meanings of Columbus Day (to Native Americans, to Europeans, past and present treatment of the day by Americans) and how the Vikings were actually the first Europeans here nearly 500 years before Columbus, talked to Gommie (who is somewhere cold out in Colorado, near Gunderson and heading to Durango, perhaps), played DS a bit, had a deli picnic lunch in the living room (just too hot in the sun!),  and are now watching their new favorite musical, Cats.  We might have a neighbor friend come over later today; if not, maybe we'll play chess or another game.  There's lot of time left to enjoy the day.   Hope you're having a good one too, wherever the holiday finds (and whatever it means to) you.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Harry Day

We were channeling Hogwarts over here today, with pumpkin pasties for dinner and several games of chess!  That's right, chess.  The kids have taken to chess.  They had wanted to try their hand at it since seeing it in the movie, having given up on making checkers as exciting as Wizards' Chess.  And so Mama bought them a starter set, Harry Potter, of course, exactly like the chess challenge in the movie.  Yesterday, they practiced all the ways the different pieces could move, following along in beginning chess books Bud had chosen at the library on Thursday including one with great illustrations of knights and castles and another written by World Chess Champion and grandmaster Gary Kasparov (he's taken them to bed two nights in a row to read!).  Today, they played each other, several times, not minding who won or lost, as long as they could make the blowing up noises from the movie!  We watched, making sure pawns attacked the correct way and knights moved only in their L-formation (good thing Mama's memory is better than mine), and advised sometimes, about strategy, castling, rules (if you touch it, you have to move it), and etiquette (it's not nice to use your Queen to kick their King if they've surrendered).  And they loved it.  Watch out, Muggles!


Pumpkin Pasties (coming soon)

2 pie crusts, room temperature
1 can of pumpkin puree
cinnamon, nutmeg

Religion, Part II: On Compassion and Codes

Going back to the conversation I had with two friends this week regarding religion and a moral code,  I've been reflecting on two recent articles in the NYTimes exploring empathy and compassion.  Both are important to me in my own life and in raising our kids.  The articles suggest both are in short supply and not always the motivation for right action that we expect.

In "Becoming Compassionately Numb," Benedict Carey suggests that, with the abundance of crises, we're experiencing fatigue--limiting joblessness benefits and disaster aid, cheering executions while booing a GLBT soldier (both of those at recent Republican debates! In fact, aren't all four of these from Republicans??), slow and minimal responses to Somalia, Darfur, Rwanda, etc.  People in the help professions have long recognized such fatigue, especially when they see the same chronic, seemingly hopeless challenges.  Interesting, he mentions the evolution of compassion as evolving to protect the household and clan; chimpanzees and monkeys also show compassion. Of course, we're more likely to respond to individuals in crises than larger entities, mainly because it is easier to relate to a single person than to an entire country, which is why non-profit pleas for compassion focus on single suffers to greater success.  However, it has been found that first responders and doctors must actually silence their compassionate reactions to be effective in overwhelming circumstances; otherwise, they too would become numb and fatigued.

The second article, David Brooks's "The Limits of Empathy," discusses the actual disconnect between feelings of empathy and action.  As Carey noted, Brooks's finds that empathizing with another doesn't always lead us to act compassionately, especially if there is a significant personal cost.  Brooks's article focuses on what does: a sense of duty, not compassion. "People who actually perform pro-social action don’t only feel for those who are suffering, they feel compelled to act by a sense of duty. Their lives are structured by sacred codes."  He continues, 

Think of anybody you admire. They probably have some talent for fellow-feeling, but it is overshadowed by their sense of obligation to some religious, military, social or philosophic code. They would feel a sense of shame or guilt if they didn’t live up to the code. The code tells them when they deserve public admiration or dishonor. The code helps them evaluate other people’s feelings, not just share them. The code tells them that an adulterer or a drug dealer may feel ecstatic, but the proper response is still contempt.
This is why doctors, social workers, oncology nurses, and the other professions Carey mentions are able to respond--they have a professional code to which they are duty-bound that motivates them to act.
I have found that embracing the Unitarian Universalist principles  or "code" has provided me with a clearer since of moral action than I had previously.  As I've posted before (and here), it also allows me to communicate those rules to the kiddos more effectively and efficiently.  We're always pointing back to the principals--"turn off the water because we protect the web of life" and "don't hit because we respect individuals."  And while I couldn't explain this to my friends last week, it's why I take the kids to church, why I take myself.  I don't doubt that they can teach their kids to be moral, upstanding, good people without church--I would be the last to say that religion makes a person good--but I find it frankly easier to do with a church, a code, and community support.  As Brooks states,
"The code isn’t just a set of rules. It’s a source of identity. It’s pursued with joy. It arouses the strongest emotions and attachments. Empathy is a sideshow. If you want to make the world a better place, help people debate, understand, reform, revere and enact their codes."
Is it coincidence that we are becoming a less compassionate nation, if Carey is believed, as we have lost our connection to traditional religious codes?  Or when those codes become perverted by fundamentalists who seek more to punish their neighbors than to love them?    Karen Armstrong, author and TED recipient, espouses in her book, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life,that a true return to the Golden Rule, a version of which is found in all moral creeds and religious codes (including UU principal #1), would lead to a better world.   With enough compassion for everyone.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Religion, Part I: Beyond Science

On Tuesday, I had a few moms over and, after talking about school and current events (about which they bemoaned not having time to pay any attention and only knew what their husbands told them.  Sigh, is it really the 1950s?  Has nothing changed?), we turned to religion.  One is culturally Jewish with a New-Age spiritual bent, while another grew up Buddhist and has a nominally Christian husband.  Neither wants to teach their child a specific religion or faith, besides being a good person.  I listened more than talked, neither giving my reasons for taking the children to church (mainly spiritual education and community) nor my own beliefs, which are constantly shifting.

Religion has been on my mind recently, both because of a plethora of articles surrounding faith or more specifically the lack thereof (features on evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and author/intellectual Christopher Hitchens) and also the idea of energy healing.  Let's start with that.  As I detailed earlier, a friend (actually the New Ager above) introduced me to "tapping," which posits that pain is the result of electrical energy blockages.  Now, I'm not a medical doctor and really don't know about the electrical systems of the body, but I'm skeptical about random energy blockages.  Especially because scientists haven't found them.

And then I read Alan Lightman's "Does God Exist?" (which also talks about Dawkins) on Salon, a treatise addressing the science-religion divide.  Lightman begins with the Central Doctrine of science, which was new to me:  "All properties and events in the physical universe are governed by laws, and those laws are true at every time and place in the universe. "  Which boils down to the fact that the laws are predictable and verifiable, even if scientists don't know all of them yet and are tweaking the ones scientists have identified.  This is scientific materialism (if I'm keeping my terms straight).  

If there is a God (which classical theologians define as omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent), did he invent those natural laws and then take a hands-off position?  Or does he function even now within those laws or perhaps counter to them through miracles?  Lightman explains:

We can categorize religious beliefs according to the degree to which God acts in the world. At one extreme is atheism: God does not exist, period. Next comes deism, a prominent belief in the 17th and 18th centuries and partly motivated to incorporate new scientific developments with theological thinking. Deism holds that God created the universe but has not acted thereafter. (Voltaire considered himself a deist.) Next comes immanentism: God created the universe and the physical laws and continues to act but only through repeated application of those fixed laws. While immanentism differs philosophically from deism, it is functionally equivalent because God does not perform miracles in the world, and the Central Doctrine of science is upheld. One can argue that Einstein believed in an immanentist God. Finally comes what some theologians call interventionism: From time to time, God can and does act to violate the laws. 
Most religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism, subscribe to an interventionist view of God. Following the discussion above, all of these religions, at least in their orthodox expressions, are incompatible with science. This is as far as one gets with a purely logical analysis. Except for a God who sits down after the universe begins, all other Gods conflict with the assumptions of science.

So, where do I fall on this spectrum?  Well, beginning with the classical definition of God, I don't actually believe in him.  And so I often have called myself an atheist.  Except as I grow and grow older, I find this term doesn't fit exactly.  I realize that the answers to the questions of the universe are unknowable to me and that this fact might actually define and enrich our human paths.  Am I prepared to say that nothing exists beyond what science tells us?  No, because I believe, in many ways, that science is in its infancy of understanding the universe:  as I understand it, science can name and can sometimes describe processes but cannot always identify cause or make predictions.  It's like the toddler who can make the "moo" of a cow but doesn't understand much more than that.  Take margarine, for example:  for years, it was a healthy safe substance; now it's not.  Science hadn't gotten it right the first time.  Same with fen phen.  Or HRT.  Or Pluto.  Acknowledging Lambeth's objections before he posts, I'm not downplaying science's contributions (like penicillin and vaccinations and artificial hips), just pointing to some weaknesses.  

Will science find a way to identify those electronic energy blockages?  Or ghosts? Or miracles? Or the human soul?  

Or do they just not exist?

With my exploration of alternative healing, my burgeoning distrust of some aspects of science and specifically Western medicine, my continued study of Buddhism, my personal exploration of prayer, I am more agnostic than atheist.  But I'm still perhaps too much of a materialist, caught between science and religion, because I almost automatically doubt and distrust non-scientific answers in the beginning and cannot easily accept otherwise (like energy healing and ghosts and heaven).  I wish I didn't need it, but I like proof or at least reasonable or rational answers (even if I question the institutions and academics who provide them).  I don't have faith, if that is the belief in that which cannot  be proven.

However, I do like his alternative definition of faith:
Faith, in its broadest sense, is about far more than belief in the existence of God or the disregard of scientific evidence. Faith is the willingness to give ourselves over, at times, to things we do not fully understand. Faith is the belief in things larger than ourselves. Faith is the ability to honor stillness at some moments and at others to ride the passion and exuberance that is the artistic impulse, the flight of the imagination, the full engagement with this strange and shimmering world.
This is a kind of faith I can have, more hope than proof.

Lightman posits that, while scientists are obsessed with the "well-posed problem" that can eventually be answered because it is posed with such clarity and specificity, artists and humanists don't care about such problems, seeing that there are either no answers or multiple answers to the big questions. Questions like "why are we here?" and "what is the meaning of life?"  The questions are the point. Not surprisingly, I am starting to fall in line more with this view of the world than the scientific one, even if answers that fly in the face of science are still very discomforting to me.  But I am coming to understand that there is more in heaven and earth than have been dreamt of in my philosophy.