This weeks' photo hunt topic is "beautiful" -- so of course you know every parent out there is going to post pictures of his or her kids. I'm no different. Shamelessly so. Here are two photos of Son and Daughter working hard to learn tree climbing techniques in a Philadelphia park on our recent vacation.
I love the concentration on Son's face...
and the enjoyment of the breeze on daughter's.
Their pleasure in the simple activities of childhood -- climbing trees, getting muddy, finding a crawdad in the creek -- reminds me every day that beauty is in our perceptions.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
This weeks' photo hunt topic is "beautiful" -- so of course you know every parent out there is going to post pictures of his or her kids. I'm no different. Shamelessly so. Here are two photos of Son and Daughter working hard to learn tree climbing techniques in a Philadelphia park on our recent vacation.
Friday, August 29, 2008
On the way out of preschool yesterday:
Son: Mama, I have to brush my teeth very very very VERY well tonight. [pause] Because I had candy today.
Me: Candy? Really? That was a treat! What kind of candy?
Son: [bouncing a little with excitement] Oh, I will tell you. Listen. It's going to sound soooo good. Well, it was gummy worms and Oreo cookies.
Me: [trying hard to control the grimace in my voice at this strange combination] That does sound good.
Son: ...And we took the Oreos and we crushed them up [making crushing motions with his hands], and we put them in a cup for the dirt, and then we put in the worms, and we could put them wherever we wanted, so there were worms in the dirt.
Me: [completely speechless at this taste concoction, unaware that it would only get worse]
Son: Oh, and we also put pudding in the cup first. For mud. But I couldn't find my green worm after that. I don't know where it went.
At this point, the thought of Oreos crumbled up over mud pudding, with gummy worms stirred into it to the point of oblivion was so gross as to be comical. And, really, there was nothing I could possibly say along the lines of "yummmm" that would be truthful. So I said nothing at all.
Sometime after dinner, it occurred to me to say to him, "You don't normally like pudding. Did you eat the pudding?"
Me: Did it taste good? Did you like it?
Son: Well, we were supposed to eat it. So I ate it.
Me: But did you like it?
Son: Nooo. It wasn't very good.
And here is where I am completely stunned: the child will not eat cut up or overly cooked vegetables, no matter what the teachers say about their expectations, but he will choke down stickly sweet pudding, which he has never liked in the slightest, because he is "supposed to eat it." Isn't it fascinating that deep in the recesses of his child's self, he sees that there is somehow supposed to be an appeal to the sugary treat, whereas the expectation is that peas-n-carrots are a chore? The perceptiveness of children will never cease to amaze me.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Thanks to the generosity that is BusyDad, as well as his good friend, Jeff Day (M.D. and cartoonist extraordinaire*) -- and also thanks in no small part to the wonder that is the Random Number Generator -- the Time household was the lucky recipient of one of the coolest books EV-AH. I have to rave about this book because Son adored it instantly, preferred it over all other bedtime stories, and wanted to have the entire thing read to him in one sitting. Yes, all 112 densely packed pages.
Don't Touch That! The Book of Gross, Poisonous, and Downright Icky Plants and Critters is a fantastic read -- funny, incredibly informative, and endlessly interesting in both pictures and text.**
If you have kids, there's a high likelihood that they are fascinated with the natural world. Darwin might have called them "budding naturalists." I would call them "inveterate ant pokers." Some people might simply call them "boys." I will admit that Daughter is much more inclined to crouch down very very close to the ground, put her face about 4 inches above the ant, and wave gently while repeating over and over, "Hi Ant. Hi Ant. Hi Ant." And Son is more likely to ask hopefully (as he did a few nights ago about a moth that flew out of our pantry and landed on the kitchen floor), "Can I squish it?" Nonetheless, they are both pretty much equally fascinated by bugs, plants, and all manner of critters. I would imagine that Son might embrace a snake more readily than Daughter, but I think it's an age thing and not a gender thing. For the record, both of them were equally enamored of the illustrations in this book. But, the Time family's efforts to thwart gender stereotyping aside, I'll get to the point:
Kids of either sex, unless terrified generally by spiders and plant life, will LOVE this book.
It's got fantastic cartoon illustrations that give you a sense of what these plants and critters look like, as well as light-hearted visions of their most salient traits. The text is much more thorough than I ever would have expected. It gives clear descriptions of habits and habitats, things to worry about and things not to fret over. (How often are spider bites deadly? Can a Venus Flytrap snag your finger? What should you really do if a snake bites you? What are the effects of a snake's venom? Of rubbing up against Poison Ivy? What are the biological mechanisms that create those reactions?) It will give you information about how to deal with the things you shouldn't touch, as well information that will satisfy your intellectual curiosity with all kinds of details you'd never imagine knowing.
And let's face it, if you have kids anything like my kids, you need some kind of reference for what to do when they invariably touch precisely what they aren't supposed to touch. Buy this book, and I swear, you will never go back to staid old reference tomes again.
Son insisted on taking Don't Touch That! with him to preschool a few days after we got it. And then he proceeded to flip to the page about tarantulas and explain to the teacher about how some of them can shoot spiky hairs out of their behinds, which was shortly followed by details of the relationship between the tarantula and the Italian dance, the tarantella. I have to admit, I was impressed at how much he'd retained after just a single reading the night before. I'm sure the great illustrations help in this regard. And so do all the crazy fun facts tucked in and around the useful information. (No, a tarantula bite won't kill you, or even be very harmful. And yes, the tarantella really is a dance named after the tarantula. Read the book to find out why.)
While I personally would have loved to have a little diagram of footprints with arrows to teach me the tarantella (kidding. sort of.) this book far exceeds any reasonable expectations you might have for a book about bugs and plants. And probably many unreasonable ones too.
So here's what I'd do, if I were looking for a present for a child ages 4-8 (and especially feel free to take this as a tip if you're a mother of girls seeking a present for a boy birthday party): I'd buy a copy of this book and then (because it's a bargain at $9.95), I'd pair it with an insect and butterfly net and this super cool bug magnifying jar for endless good times for any budding backyard scientist. In fact, I think I just might be taking my own advice come holiday time for at least one nephew of mine...
So, do yourself and your kids a favor and go check out this book. It's the most fun you'll ever having grossing yourself out.
* Yes, this is the same Jeff Day who is responsible for BusyDad's fantastic new header, as well as his collaborator on the cartoon-straveganza that is BusyDad Tales -- the series of stories written by BusyDad and illustrated by Jeff Day in comics faintly reminiscent of the cartooning style of Bill Watterson's magnificent Calvin and Hobbes.
**Nope, no one has coerced me to write this post, or made writing it a condition of getting the free book, or anything of the sort. I just had to pass on this great recommendation, since the book is such a hit at our house, and I'm so grateful to have won a book that will clearly lead to many good times of exploration in the future.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Why is it that the Dog, who can barely hear me when I shout at her to STOP CHASING THAT RABBIT, can be sound asleep, upstairs, under covers, and yet still hear me drop a single bite of soft leftover sandwich into her dog bowl in the kitchen?
How is it possible for the very same pair of blue jeans to be too small in the waist at the front and miiiiiles too big in the waist at the back? Who are they making these pants for? Do skinny women with pre-pubescent boy abs really have that much back fat?
On a related note: why do the makers of pants in general assume that a woman with hips must by default have no waistline? If I had a dime for every pair of pants I've tried on that was too big in the waist when it fit in the hips, I would have enough money to hire a tailor to make me some custom pants. (And when I say too big, I don't mean a wee bit loose. I mean that the zipper is completely superfluous because you can basically see right down into the pants and assess my underwear, even when the pants are all buttoned up.) I don't want mom jeans. I just want some pants that are not shaped like I'm a 13 year old girl, straight down from waist to hips. I really shouldn't have to make my own pants to get them to fit, should I?
And, finally, how in the world do they learn how to do this without falling and breaking their noses, or strangling to death in the process?
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
For those of you who might think of me as the grammar police, or as the staid and respectable voice of moderation and reason at a dinner party, or as a boring old English professor who teaches long, dusty novels, let me just say, for the record:
these shoes make me want to marry YOU by Crocs and have tiny little adorable patent leather baby shoes together. Seriously.
The style is named "Venice." I adore Venice. So romantic, such a wonderful city for walking. Really, it's a city one can only explore on foot, since there is no motorized traffic allowed in Venice, except of the boat variety. (Caveat: fabulous as these shoes seem, they probably don't enable the wearer to walk on water. Though I can't be sure unless I try them myself. Hint Hint: YOU by Crocs.) The little, twisted, narrow, sometimes-cobbled streets would be the perfect test of the comfort and durability and stylishness of these shoes. But I'm not asking for a trip to Italy. Not even secretly hoping for one. All I really want is one little (well, not so little; I wear size 9) pair of shoes to call my own.
I would love and cherish them like all charming and incredibly-well-made Italian footwear deserves. I would brag about them to all my friends. I would wear them to class regularly enough to get comments about them on my end-of-semester evaluations and thereby ensure the brand gets even more attention. (Oh yes, they do. Students notice footwear. I had one student write, anonymously, on the end-of-term survey in response to the question "What was your favorite part of this class?".... "Her green shoes." Just imagine how "favorite" shoes as gorgeous as these would be.)
So, let's backtrack a little to see why they would be perfect for me. As a professor at a university whose graduate courses only run at night, I'm routinely on campus from 8am until 10pm at least once a week, not to mention my other long "normal" days that end at dinner time -- and most of the day I'm on my feet. Which means, of course, I need comfortable shoes. Now, as far as I can tell, there are several types of professor clothing: the absent-minded, tweed-and-elbow-patches professor; the University sweatshirt and blue jeans, relate-to-the-students professor; the Henry Louis Gates bowtie-and-attitude professor; the Holly Hobby / crunchy granola / frumpy 1970s / generally out-of-touch in her mothballish dresses professor; and the overdress slightly to overcompensate for looking not much older than the students professor.
I'm the last.
Unfortunately, it's only all of the former categories that lend themselves to comfortable shoes. (Henry Louis Gates doesn't have to wear pumps to look stylish.)
Did I mention that I taught a night class that finished a mere four hours before Daughter was born, and that I had on high-heeled black knee boots that were torture to zip up in that last month of pregnancy, but that I was determined to wear, come what may, given that I had already reached her due date, and Daughter was not born yet, and the least I could do was have a good hair and shoes day for that night class?
So, it's not surprising that as soon as I finished reading this post of OhMommy's, where I first learned about these shoes, I began to drool all over the keyboard. These shoes will save my life. Comfortable, incredibly stylish, all leather, lined in leather, gorgeous pumps made by....
wait for it....
wait for it....
you'll never guess...
CROCS! Yes, you read that right. CROCS makes these shoes. Oh, you guessed already? Was it my linking to YOU by Crocs that gave it away? But didn't you think, admit now, you did, you thought that it must somehow be another Crocs, since these shoes, my lovely Venice shoes (not to mention all their other equally scrumptious styles) make those gardening clogs look like the ugly stepsisters, right? And yet, it's true. The purveyors of comfort, THE Crocs, actually know more than a little something about style.
And OhMommy swears they are the most comfortable thing since sliced bread. Well, not exactly. She doesn't wear sliced bread for shoes. But despite the mixed metaphors, you get the point, right? These are sassy, shiny, lovely heels that are actually comfortable, and come in half sizes, and contain extra padding in the ball of the foot and other pressure points that heels can otherwise aggravate, and... oh, my stars, I NEED SOME.
Did I mention that I'm a professor?
That may seem like a fancy job, what with the PhD and all. But Humanities professors at underfunded, public, state institutions have starting salaries that are surprisingly low. And unlike my young, single, hip female colleagues who will be dying to own a pair of these as soon as they see the glory that is mine close up, I have two children's college funds to contribute to on a monthly basis.
So, that means that while I really really want a pair of these amazing shoes, sigh for them, dream about them...they are priced somewhat beyond my shoe budget.
Do you suppose the YOU by Crocs people will read this post and think to themselves, "Perhaps we should donate a pair to this very worthy cause. A woman who works all day on her feet educating the youth of tomorrow! Yes, we will!" And then they'll email me, and offer me my choice of a luscious pair of shoes in exchange for writing about how dreamy my feet feel at the end of a long work day? And I'll say, "Of course, I would love to write down the poetry my feet will be singing after walking around all day in your shiny pretty comfortable amazingly-made-for -real-feet shoes. Please just send them to me, and I will write a review so glowing that it will rival the glow of their patent leather sheen..." And then they WILL send them to me?
And my feet will sing.
And I'll write down the lyrics for you.
And you will sing too, because the song will be so catchy.
Do you suppose that will happen?
...Well, a woman can dream...
But here's the thing, OhMommy is giving away a pair to one lucky winner, courtesy of YOU by Crocs. And if you leave her a comment on her post, she'll throw your name in a hat with the eleventy-three zillion other people who left a comment because they would love to own a pair of these shoes, and she'll choose one lucky winner. And if you also write a post about how much you'd like to have them, she'll throw your name into the hat twice. Which makes your chances twice as good, at two out of eleventy-three zillion.
I'm thinking, the chances that someone from YOU by Crocs will happen across my post, be tickled by it, and email me to offer me a pair of shoes in exchange for something useful to them (really YOU by Crocs, I'll do almost anything that doesn't involve tanning the leather myself), those chances have got to be at least as good as two out of eleventy-three zillion. I'm not sure what statistical probability that translates into, but I am sure of this:
I look at these shoes, and my very
soles soul aches to have a pair. Doesn't yours?
Edited to add this fascinating tidbit: I just took at gander at my Stat Counter for the first time in a while and found that apparently someone on Yahoo's message boards about the stock market is using this post as a sign that "Crocs is gettin' hot" again. I am getting one hit approximately every 90 seconds from this stock tip. If Crocs' stock skyrockets [say that three times fast] as a result of this post, do you think I should jump ship career-wise and become a stock portfolio adviser? Now that is a question worth chewing on, don't you think?
Monday, August 25, 2008
Son and Daughter are playing "Doctor." In the manner of all oldest children, particularly those with younger siblings who are still not completely fluent in language that involves words rather than whines, Son insists on playing the better of the two parts.
They haven't broken the game down into Doctor/Patient.
Oh, no. Daddy is the Patient.
The kids are Doctor and Nurse.
Guess which one Son is.
Because "the nurse gives the shots." And that's so much cooler than whatever the doctor does. So, of course, he's hogged that job for himself.
They have just finished fixing up Daddy, and they wander into my office to fix me. Doctor Daughter is carrying the small stool and following Nurse Son's orders. "Put down the stool," he commands. She complies. Nurse Son is carrying our small doctor kit. When Doctor Daughter tries to help out, she is quickly rebuffed. "NOOOOO," he insists. "The NURSE gives the shots." Doctor Daughter is relegated to handing him the necessary implements out of the case and serving as general Dog Wrangler, since I'm working and refuse to be Patient, and thus Dog has the honor of being the next to be fixed.
Dog clearly doesn't understand the rules, as she keeps standing up and running out of the room. So the game disintegrates, despite copious offerings of treats.
Even with the bossy older sibling dynamics that I need to help Son revise, they have no idea how happy they've just made me with their sense that Nurses have cooler jobs than Doctors.
From their perspective, I can certainly see why this would be the case. Whenever we go to the doctor's office, the nurse handles all the gadgets -- thermometer, blood pressure cuff, syringes. Doctors come in and look at them, ask me a lot of questions, scribble things on charts, and occasionally pull out the special light to look in ears. But that's really small potatoes compared to the sharp sharp needles and the right to dispense both flashy cartoon character bandaids AND lollipops.
Also, the nurses wear much cooler clothes.
I know that in the medical field, nurses often get short shrift. I also know from my two short hospital stays in the maternity ward that nurses can make or break one's medical experience, while the doctors are often in and out in just a few minutes.
Granted, I've never nearly bled to death or otherwise been in a trauma where I needed a doctor to save my life. And this isn't me even remotely suggesting a slam on doctors.
All I'm saying is that in a world where far more men than women are doctors, and far more women than men are nurses, where there is a definite professional hierarchy that has to do not only with schooling and salary but also clearly with gender, it is really delightful to hear the play of children who are still innocent of that particular bit of gender-inflected cultural bias. It is my deepest hope that even as they grow and learn more of the world, they continue to make their own assessments of value and do not blindly begin to follow the assumptions that surround them.
In short, in my house, it makes me smile every time I hear the words, "C'mon, Sister, let's play Doctor." Followed quickly by, in his best bossy, hogging-the-plum-role-for-himself voice, "I'm the NURSE!"
Saturday, August 23, 2008
The lovely Ree, of Hotfessional, tagged me for this meme -- which I had almost finished and then had to put aside for a while. Of course, I accidentally published it instead of saving it, so now I look very silly. In any case, what's below is now all finished. (Yes, I feel ridiculous.) And I have to say that having this passed to me by this lovely woman was fun, in part because she and I are very similar in some ways, but not as much fun as having dinner with her very self in the flesh earlier this week.
In fact, we had dinner together with Marie Millard, and the three of us managed to spend several hours completely effortlessly, chatting and drinking, of course, a martini (or six). Which explains why we are all so happy...
Anyway, on to the point here:
A. Attached or single? Attached to a wonderful man who is the father of the two children constantly attaching themselves to my knees, neck, arms, and any other body part they can use to drag me around the house.
B. Best friend? Siamee II (or was it Siamee I? we can never remember which of us is which) The two of us were christened with this pair of names in high school since we were never apart. We've been best friends for the last 27 years. It's true.
C. Cake or pie? Chocolate cake. Unless it's fresh blackberry pie with vanilla ice cream.
D. Day of choice? Any day that the children get along more than they bicker, that I get to do a little exercising and a little reading, and that we all enjoy eating the same thing at dinner.
E. Essential item? Good face cream with sunscreen.
F. Favorite color? Green. Ever since I was a young kid. Any shade of green will do in a pinch (except chartreuse, lime, army, olive, drab)... okay, I guess what I really mean is any shade of green that has blue undertones. My favorites are deep pine green and pale pale celadon.
G. Gummy bears or worms? Neither. Spiced gum drops.
H. Hometown? born in East Lansing, MI; grew up outside of Atlanta, GA
I. Indulgence? verrrrry occasionally: antique jewelry.
J. January or July? January. I love the snow.
K. Kids? Two. Son is 4 1/2; Daughter is 2.
L. Life isn’t complete without? Books, wine, crusty bread, someone to laugh with.
M. Marriage date? September 8, 2001. Phew. A few short and lucky days before THE September 11.
N. Number of brothers & sisters? 1 and 2
O. Oranges or apples? Oranges - tiny clementines in December and January to give me a taste of sunshine.
P. Phobias? None really. I used to be terrified of drowning, but not any more. Now I plan elaborate escape routes for the whole family and dog in case of fire or home invasion, but these aren't phobias so much as "insomnias."
Q. Quotes? How to choose?? how to choose?? How about these lines, from Oscar Wilde's Preface to the Picture of Dorian Gray:
Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming.R. Reasons to smile? Watching my children learn to swim this summer, getting an acceptance letter from a publisher (hasn't happened recently), and traveling to new places.
This is a fault.
Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope.
They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty.
There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written.
That is all.
S. Season of choice? Does it make me Pollyanna if I say I love them all? I would be most sad to live in a place without a change of seasons. At the end of summer, I love the anticipation of gearing up for cozy clothes and stew; I adore snow; I am always eager to start digging in the garden in spring; I have a great time in the parks with the kids in summer. My least favorite is oppressive HEAT, followed closely by grey, snowless, dreary winter days.
T. Tag seven peeps! (see below)
U. Unknown fact about me? I spent a lot of time doing theater throughout high school and college, and I love lecturing in big lecture halls or giving speeches at weddings -- but if you ask me to sing in front of anyone above preschool age, I will become nervous enough to cry and run away.
V. Vegetable? Asparagus, grilled, with balsamic vinegar
W. Worst habits? Procrastination.
X. X-ray or ultrasound? I honestly don't understand this question. Is it which have I had? Which do I prefer? And why is either one interesting to know? Do you want to know about my impacted wisdom teeth? That was a bizarre-looking x-ray. Are you interested in the fact that we found out Daughter was a girl (thanks to ultrasound) while I was still pregnant with her, but had not found out either way (on purpose) with Son before her? Do you want to know which machine I'd want most on a desert island? Huh. Can't answer this one. Sorry.
Y. Your favorite food? Unable to choose one. I will say: crusty bread with seeds of some kind, sushi rolls, lobster cooked for me while I'm sitting on the docks in Maine, and pretty much anything involving saffron. But not all together. That would be excessive.
Z. Zodiac sign? Taurus. Read any description you like of this sign, and that's me pretty much to a T. (Strangely, that's Ree too, she says!)
So, here are the people I want to know 26 more things about: LatteMommy (you know you brought this on yourself by pointing out my lack of tags :), Suburban Kamikaze, Lipstick at the Mailbox, Sassy Irish Lassy, Instamom, Heather at The Extraordinary Ordinary, and Auds at Barking Mad. If you aren't reading them, go give them a check out too!
Friday, August 22, 2008
So, Auds at Barking Mad came up with this great plan that we should all throw dinner parties and invite other bloggers, and tell everyone who we'd invite and why. And I'm assuming she's thinking these are virtual dinner parties because I'm not sure anyone I invite will be willing to spring for the plane ticket to Detroit, even if I do offer up Salmon Fabulosity for an appetizer (which I most certainly will). The bonus of the virtual dinner party is that everyone will be able to attend as no one could possibly have a scheduling conflict with no particular time on no particular day. Also, I can serve incredibly fancy food and really really nice wine because the 37 bottles that these 12 bloggers will drink will only cost me a very lot of Monopoly money. And see how I did that? Changed her directions to invite 10 bloggers to a list of 12 without even breathing hard? Because in Virtual Dinner Party Land, my six matching dining room chairs will magically replicate themselves into enough seats for twelve, and my dining room table will, quite Alice in Wonderland-like, open itself up like a telescope to the perfect size conveniently to fit these lovely guests. And so will my dining room, so that the table doesn't have to burst through the large picture windows and into the back garden. Also, those dozen guests will really be a baker's dozen because no one likes a dinner party with an odd number of attendees, and if I'm at my own party, I will have to invite an odd number of guests to make the final tally even.
And, phew. If you made it through that, you're no doubt ready for the list of attendees.
I've been seeing these guest lists popping up here and there, and admiring the deftness of their handling. Some people are organizing them by meal course, which seems to me to be pretty clever what with the nice flow of the organization and the obvious fact that the guests are actually bringing the dinner. Which makes hostessing much less stressful. Other people are giving helpful explanations of what everyone's role in the party group dynamics will be. And some are inviting a whole table full of bloggers I've never met and making me wish I could be the cook or waitress or some other servile being at the party, just so I could meet all these new folks.
So, for my part, I'm going to tell you who will be doing what with (to?) the food and drink at my house. And I promise that although (quite sadly) this dinner probably won't really happen at my house, I would love it if it could, and I can actually cook all of the following, and if any subset of these people really wanted to show up on my doorstep at any given time, I actually would cook at least some of the following in delight and celebration.
Mr. Lady will, of course, be tending bar. This is her job because she could do it with her eyes closed, and therefore it will be no real work at all. There is nothing less charitable in a hostess than asking some poor person who is awkward with a wine opener to "do the honors" or some such nonsense, thereby putting said person on the spot and causing discomfort all around. Rest assured, with Mr. Lady on the case, your glass will always be full of precisely what you like best because the bar will be stocked with everything you could desire -- include ingredients for my two favorite non-alcoholic concoctions for those who are lactating, incubating, or otherwise abstaining for any reason: frozen melon frappes with mint and cranberry sprizers with lime. I'm also putting Mr. Lady on this duty because she will want to be able to talk to everyone, and everyone will need a drink at some point, so this will make her happy. And it will make you happy because she is hilarious. Don't blame me if she tries to kiss you, though. She can be very affectionate; you've been warned.
And after I wrote that, I made my list of bloggers I HAD to invite. And it was 20 people. I thought, this guest list is getting closer to keg party than dinner party. And then I thought, hmmmm... perhaps I should just have two parties back-to-back, ten each? And then that seemed like too much cooking, like I was really cheating (and I'm already pushing it with my whole baker's dozen thing), and like more clean-up than I am willing to do, even in Virtual Dinner Party Land. So I winnowed and whittled, and this is what I came up with.
Auds from Barking Mad is the guest of honor, since this was her idea, and she gets to wear this crown (designed by Son) first. She may or may not choose to let others have a turn, her prerogative.
Appetizers will be passed by Foolery and Jozet from Halushki. Foolery will put everyone at ease with her witty observations on aging musicians, and Jozet will remind us about fairies and all the other magic of childhood that we sometimes tend to forget. And this light-yet-serious, repartee-inducing conversation will go very nicely with mushroom puffs and chicken satay sticks, which we can all wave around in the air for emphasis while we're talking. You'll all have to help yourselves to Salmon Fabulosity, by the way, which is far too heavy to pass as it contains three pounds of cream cheese alone.
Megan from Velveteen Mind, who strikes me as a woman who seriously knows from hospitality, will be rearranging the seating at the table, and prettying up the flower arrangements, and helping me make sure everything comes out of the oven at the same time. Also, she will reassure me that even though I've made the extremely risky move of choosing a Hawaiian stuffed roast leg of lamb for the main course, everyone will LOVE it. (Because, of course, in Virtual Dinner Party Land, even foods you don't normally like taste good.)
Mrs. G from Derfwad Manor gets to carve the roast. She will be very good at this important job, and will also no doubt make us laugh ourselves nearly sick with some stories I can't even anticipate about carving knives throughout history or the way her latest Secret Boyfriend taught her this new carving technique.
Around the table will be the best assortment of story-tellers I can amass, from the thought-provoking Julie Pippert to the poignant Casey from Moosh in Indy to the hilarious Bejewell from The Bean. For sheer presence who tells it like it is, I must put Tootsie Farklepants (@Vintage Thirty) at the table. And, of course, All Adither, who is actually managing what most of us only dream: writing a novel. I'm not giving these women particular jobs except to say this: contrary to our perceptions, the side-dishes make or break the meal. A piece de resistance of a main course falls flat without lots of great flavors to complement it. So, please pass the wild rice and grilled asparagus. And talk to me.
LatteMommy and MommyPie are of course in charge of the dessert course. Latte will (obviously) be passing all the fancy after-dinner coffee drinks your heart desires. MommyPie is slicing the pies. Yes, there will be pies. Apple, peach, and pecan. All hot and delicious.
And when we're all so sated we can hardly move, Queen Auds in the fancy hat, will usher us out onto the back deck, which I'm planning on covering with heaping piles of cushions, so that we can lounge around and watch the stars and count the fireflies flickering in the 50-foot spruce trees that line the back edge of the yard.
Now, doesn't that really sound like the best dinner party you could ever want?
Thursday, August 21, 2008
I grew up with several great tellers of stories. Our grandfather was always willing to oblige us, when my sisters and I were little, with stories of three _______ [fill in the blank with whatever animal we chose at the moment]. He would spin wonderful fanciful yarns for us about those three sister animals. Our mother created a love-to-criticize-her character named Gwendolyn Hershey who was really quite the naughtiest little girl you could ever imagine -- though nearly always inadvertently. Boy, could she make a mess, though.
So it is perhaps not much of a surprise that in our house we are now developing a little library of fictional characters whose serial adventures I'm commanded to produce whenever the whim strikes Son. (I'm sure Daughter will be in on the requests soon enough, as she already enjoys listening.) For a while, we had the Ten Tigers. They were all quite fierce, and lived in the jungle -- or sometimes the mountains, or occasionally by the sea, and once on a pirate ship -- but the fiercest of all was of course named after Son, and he was the leader.
We've left the Ten Tigers by the wayside for a while now, in favor of a good long run of Boy Without A Head stories. I know, it sounds macabre and awful. Sorry. It's really very matter-of-fact. In any given story, the poor boy seems to have access to most of the faculties that are contained in a head. He can always think and talk and hear. Sometimes the problem is that he cannot see. Most often, though, the biggest inconvenience of not having a head has to do with props. It's hard to be Pirate Captain when you have no head on which to perch your pirate hat, for example. He did go shopping at the Head Store in one early episode, but the sales clerk kept handing him heads for other creatures (elephant, ant, robot), and none of them really suited him, so he finally gave up. He's quite a happy boy and has magnificent adventures with a level of absurdity really only possible when one has to do things like navigate a rocket without being able to see outer space at all.
Most recently, we've added to our character library Squiffy the Ghost. Don't ask where the name came from, as I haven't a clue. This morning on the way to take the kids to daycare, I was asked to produce a Squiffy story. (Everything I tell, by the way, is made up on the spot, open to serious revision by the listeners, and encourages all manner of participation in the form of, in this case, long exclamatory group sighs of "Ohhhhhh, Squiff-fffeeeeee!!")
So I launched into a story about the absurd foods that Squiffy has been craving lately, such as peanut butter on watermelon. (In unison now: "Squiff-fffeeeeee!! THAT does not sound delicious!") Squiffy's mother, tiring of this ridiculous food, requested that he choose something else for her to make. He, of course, chose meatballs with lollipops inside. He thought they sounded delicious. She was understandably dubious, but made them anyway. He launched in with delight only to find [insert chomping, smacking, eating noises] after a few bites, that the awkwardness of the lollipop sticks really made this particular recipe less than desirable. The story wound up with a pasta concoction involving macaroni, M&M's and apricots. It looked revolting, as you might imagine, due to the jumbled-up rainbows of candy-coating color streaking the noodles. But, according to Squiffy at least, it tasted magnificent. Ohhhhhh, Squiff-fffeeeeee!! there's no accounting for your tastes.
Anyway, I finished the story and Son immediately asked, "Mama, can I have that for my next birthday?"
"What?" I asked, not sure what that referred to.
"Meatballs with lollipops inside."
I started to laugh. "No, silly. We don't eat meatballs with lollipops inside." I, foolish mama, was thinking of how gross it would be to encounter glassy chunks of lime and grape flavored candy inside a savory meatball.
Son's response? Hurridly, and very matter-of-fact, "No, mama. No. Without the sticks. You could just sliiiide the lollipop off the stick. We wouldn't eat the sticks. Without the sticks. Can I mama? Can I have them?"
Which makes me wonder, just a little: does he also think it's possible -- albeit somewhat inconvenient -- to run around without a head?
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
If you (a) don't have children, or (b) get squeamish at the mere mention of bodily functions, or (c) popped in here looking for something a little thinky, I'd advise you kindly to scroll right on past the rest of this post, and go read yesterday's on the incredible and unexpectedly emotional power of Ellis Island.
But if your kids are old enough to make you quite comfortable with potty talk, please read on and help a girlfriend out. Here's the background.
I have spent the last four and a half years slowly maturing in my potty relationship to my children. First, it was resenting the fact that my husband spent whole days at work without any tiny humans sitting on his lap while he peed, while I, on the other hand, routinely had to carry a squalling Son into the bathroom with me and figure out how to get my pants up and down with one hand and arm fully occupied by a squirmy newborn.
Later I discovered that the sound of the shower soothed him, so I would put him in the bouncy seat while I took a brief respite under hot water.
By the time Daughter was born, it was such a routine occurrence for a child to have reason to find me at the precisely most inopportune moment, that closing the bathroom door simply became a giant waste of time and energy.
And then, of course, potty training required me to spend inordinate amounts of time witnessing his attempts sitting on the porcelain throne. Not to mention wiping his buns.
So the sense of privacy in the bathroom being a necessary thing, even a moderately useful thing, really even an idea at all, is well... nonexistent in our house.
But now he's four and a half. A very observant boy. One who insistently wants to know what these are. (His theory, when I refused a direct answer to his repeated question? "Light stick. Mama, can I have one? Please? I want to see how it works. Please. Such a cool light stick.")
When they were younger, Son and Daughter didn't much notice what I was doing in the bathroom because they were too interested in whatever their own agenda was in there. But now with the potty training of Daughter imminent, and both of them older, there is too much curiosity for my discretion to be sufficient to keep them from seeing what really going on on a monthly basis.
But I can't seem to get them to leave me alone in the bathroom.
AND IT'S DRIVING ME CRAZY.
Conversations about privacy sort of work. But not really. After all, I still have to serve as their witness, their wiper, their helper. Once they are completely self sufficient in the potty department, I imagine the notion of privacy will make a lot of sense.
Till then, what in the world do I tell them to get them out of the room while I attend to my graphic needs that I really don't want to explain to my preschool Son? Please tell me there is something else I can do besides explaining to him what's really going on. What do I do? What did you do?
(Accept my apologies if this post is freaking you out. Just go read the one below it instead. I promise it will clear your mind of any untoward images.)
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
From 1892-1954, some twelve million people came through here on their way towards dreams of a better life.
One of them was my great grandfather.
He sailed from Glasgow on a ship called The Corean and arrived in New York on November 30, 1895. Thanks to the miracle of the Internet, and the incredible free database that Ellis Island maintains, I can not only rattle off these facts to you; I can also tell you that The Corean was built by William Doxford & Sons for the Allan State Line, sailed under the British flag, weighed in at 3,488 gross tons, was 360 feet long and 41 feet wide, and traveled at a speed of 14 knots. And I can show you this photo of the actual ship he arrived on -- which to me is nothing short of mind-boggling, since I didn't know any of this about ten minutes before I started writing this post. (Photo credited to Tom Rayner on the Ellis Island site.)
It would have taken a bit over two weeks to make the voyage. There is no telling how long it took him to get from Polotzk, Russia to Glasgow before the sailing portion of his journey started. There is no knowing (any more) how he felt about leaving his wife and eight children behind while he came to New York at the age of 35 to try to establish himself financially so that they could all join him. They did join him, several years later. I don't know how many years later because there are no records of the arrival of the family through Ellis Island. But arrive they did, and they eventually had two more children. Child number ten, the youngest girl of that large Russian, Jewish, New York, Yiddish speaking family, was my father's mother.
According to the Ellis Island website, an estimated 40% of Americans today can trace their family back to someone who arrived here through Ellis Island.
When I boarded the ferry for Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty last Friday, I had no idea what I would encounter when I got there. As we motored across the water, all I could think of was that scene in the Will Smith movie Hitch, where he takes Sarah out to Ellis Island for a private tour and -- hoping to be all smooth and impress her -- has his friend the guard leave the registry book on display open to the name of one of her ancestors. Of course, the ancestor is listed as so-and-so "the butcher," and the disaster is that he was not a meat-carver as Hitch assumed, but a horrible, wanted murderer and the shame of the family. Which makes for a rather awkward first date.
Anyway, so I'm tootling across the water trying to keep my kids in check so no one falls of the boat, and thinking about the silly stormy scene, and wondering idly whether it's really possible to take jet skis across to the island as they do in the movie, and considering aloud whether there are days that Ellis Island really is closed so that they can film a Will Smith movie...
And then I get off the boat and confront this:
And my train of thought immediately shifts to ahhhh, those late Victorians and their polychromatic architecture. So I'm admiring the views of the buildings, and wondering things like when exactly the structures were built, and how long Ellis Island was a gateway, and all the other dozens of historical details that fascinate me.
And then I walk through the doors into the main building.
And suddenly, inexplicably, I want to sob. In front of me is a giant display of old luggage, traveling cases, baskets, and bundles, all stacked up to approximate a pile of belongings for the passengers of an incoming ship. I try to tell Son that his great great grandfather was here, but I can barely choke out the words. I am too emotional to say what I am thinking. He was here. Walking on these tiles, entering these rooms, seeking a better life for his family. I find myself explaining where Russia is, and how one crosses the sea in a ship, and how long it takes. I try to give him some sense of what a great great grandfather is. The facts are easiest to cling to, but I am not sure they make much of an impression.
The walls are covered in enormous portraits of people disembarking from ships, of serious looking families dressing in quaint ethnic clothing, of proud young men and women staring vividly back at the camera, daring the taker of the photo to portray them as large as life. I stumble over my words as I look around, wanting to impress upon Son that these people, all these people, came here hoping for something more, something better, another chance, a golden dream, freedom, jobs, food for their children. Hoping, in short, for hope. All these people.
I do not think I can explain to him why I feel like crying, why my voice catches in my throat. And so I wander, wide-eyed, not talking, fighting back emotions I had no idea I even had, murmuring quietly to myself... All these people...all these people...all these people.
Some of them look defiant. Some hopeful. Some exhausted. Some have their heads held high, as with pride. Others look joyful. Or curious. Or timid.
What I do not see, however, is the expressionless formality that is de riguer in studio pictures from the nineteenth century. Long accustomed to looking at old photos, I have seen that placid, set face countless times. The face of the object of portraiture. The face above the stiff dress or the high-buttoned suit. But these faces? They are the faces of movement. They are not the posed, expressionless, carefully fixed faces of a formal portrait. They are captured in candid moments, as they stand beside luggage, on gangways, on ship decks, or as they wait in lines for inspections, questions, documentation, luggage. For admission. They are full of expression and individuality.
In the portion of the museum devoted to explaining the restoration of Ellis Island, there are relics of the decay that faced those original restorers (in the 1980s). And there are photographs by two people who documented the state of the island before any of that work began. Both of their artist's statements make mention of feeling as if there were ghosts, voices, spirits, or the essence of people on the completely deserted island as they photographed.
Looking into the eyes of the faces that the Ellis Island museum has chosen to blow up beyond life size to adorn the walls, I can understand why. If the place weren't crawling with tourists, it would still seem full. Full of promise, of despair, of dreams.
The only picture I took while on the island that seems to me to begin to capture the feelings that bombarded me while there is this one.
It is the ceiling of the main Registry Hall. The room where upwards of 2000 people would wait for their names to be called, wait to be cross-examined with a series of questions they'd already answered at the start of their journeys to ensure they were indeed who they said they were. Chaim Strunsky was only one of the many to stand on the terra cotta floor, look up into these arches, and imagine what his life would be like once he passed down the far staircase an approved immigrant.
Within the glossy tiles of these lofty arches glide the whispers of millions. Craning my neck, as if to register those long-gone voices, I finally feel at peace on Ellis Island.
Monday, August 18, 2008
The Time family met up with the MultiplesMommy family in lovely Pennsylvania last week for some cousin fun. (MM and I will have a vacation someday in our future in which neither of us has to change any diapers and both of us get to finish whole sentences in a row uninterrupted, but perhaps we will have to wait till all of our children are taller than the minimum requirements for children's rides at an amusement park for that to happen. Even so, it was lovely to have a few days with my darling sis.)
Here are some of the things I learned about mixing a big batch of young kids together.
If you take five cousins -- ages 3, 3, 6, 4 1/2, and 2 -- to play putt putt golf, the result will be a bit like pinball, even more like hockey, a lot like chaos, and only very marginally like golf.
You will find that there are moments where the children look quite serious, and even have (borderline) good form, where they manage to hit the ball impressively well up a hill, or surprise you with a great long putt. But mostly, you will find that trying to get them to take turns on the green, stay respectfully out of each other's way, keep score, or even remember that this is an individual sport rather than a herding one, will be...well...quite simply impossible. (See picture at right, taken in the midst of playing this particular hole. Note that five children and two daddies are all actively involved, and one child has abandoned the club as a useless impediment to successfully getting the ball into the hole.)
But even though they will look like a herd of cats on every green, the family will have a fabulous time. (That's Mr. Time on the left, MultiplesMommy in the middle, and Mr. Multiples on the right. Yours truly is behind the lens.)
Although the primary reason we chose PA for our trip was Sesame Place, I have not a single photo of everyone enjoying this park, due to the simple fact that I refused to take my brand new, d-SLR camera to a water park with five small children. So I will simply have to tell you about it. Here's what Sesame Place is like:
sunshine, roller coaster, water slide, crying child, lazy river, freeeeeezing wading pool, water slide, Elmo flying fish ride, lunch, family raft water slide, "let's do it again!" or not depending on your children, hot air balloon ride, slightly warmer wading pool, melting down napless child, water slide water slide water slide water slide, drive home while everyone sleeps (preferably except the driver). Repeat the next day with fresh bathing suits, since the tickets are two-day passes.
And by the way, if you plan a trip there, do what we did, and go to the park on Monday and Tuesday rather than on the weekend for smaller crowds. Also, know that the lines are longest in the morning because for reasons unfathomable, a park that caters to the under-8 crowd doesn't open till 10am. By 3pm, the parents of melting-down children are leaving in droves, and by 5pm, you will wait less than 5 minutes to ride anything you want.
Unfortunately, Son woke up to a terrible stomach bug at 5:30am on our first day at the park. So he had to stay back at the hotel with Daddy, who bought him pedialyte and a giant package of dinosaur skeletons to play with. Fortunately, as is the way with violent stomach bugs, Son was feeling right as rain by 3pm, so brilliant Daddy took him to the movies. His head filled with Kung-Fu Panda, Son barely noticed that we'd spent all day at the water park without him. The next day, the highlight of our trip was when Son and his cousin Big Sis (age 6) became independent enough to ride a double raft together on the smaller water slides without a grown-up. Fabulous!
Another excellent family activity in the area was the Crayola Factory in Easton, PA. If your kids like art projects, you could spend an entire day there easily. We made silly hats (see above), crafted with clay, learned about printing techniques, colored with chalk on a giant floor chalk board, used markers, crayons, paints, you name it. By far my favorite room was the print-making room -- not for the quality of art that was produced but for the fabulosity of the photos that ensued. The older ones got the idea that this was a printing room, and they used all sorts of stamps to make great pictures.
Daughter, on the other hand...
My favorite playtime moment, though, of the whole trip, came on the last day we were together. For the several previous days, Son and Big Sis had been having some difficulty negotiating between their various preferred games: he kept wanting to play "Soldiers" and she (as the oldest of three sisters) kept insisting on playing "House." Neither had a clear sense of the rules of the other's game. There was some confusion and frustration -- but we parents made them work on working it out. Then on the last day, I witnessed this dialogue:
Big Sis: Hey, do you want to play Soldiers?
Son: YEAH! (adopts an aggressive stance, fingers pointed to simulate his weapons)
Big Sis: YEAH!! (primes her own finger-guns) And you can be the Daddy Soldier and I'll be the Mommy Soldier, and we can still take care of our baby.
Big Sis: And Daughter can be our baby.
Then the two of them cuddle Daughter, and explain to her that they are soldiers and she is their baby. They all crowd under the desk in the hotel room and alternately pretend to sleep and wake up -- the baby has to stay asleep till they say it's morning -- and as soon as they're all awake, they shoot bad guys. Daughter refers to both of them as "Sarge" throughout this game. They have a fantastic time.
I nearly wet myself laughing.
But I know now that if you put several children together for several days, and give them the space to figure out their own relationships, they will play beautifully together, and adore each other endlessly. And, really, that's what having cousins is all about.
That, and making their parents laugh uncontrollably while pretending to cough into their sleeves.
P.S. For those of you wondering about NYC and the giant ship, those stories coming later this week. I have to finish some laundry before I write any more...
Sunday, August 17, 2008
8 -- days of vacation
3 -- hotels slept in
1 -- afternoon learning to climb trees in an urban park with Uncle
5 -- children under six years old at the amusement park
1 -- child afflicted with stomach flu
countless -- games of "soldiers" played with cousins
1 -- ferry ride to see a statue
3 -- kid-friendly museums visited
1 -- afternoon on the beach
1 -- morning of putt-putt golf
1700 -- miles driven in the family car
One -- big, happy, relaxed family
Now I'm facing:
5 -- loads of laundry
scores -- emails to answer
523 -- posts in reader to catch up on
More stories, and oh-so-many delicious photos coming up. For now: can you guess any of the places the Time family was this past week? Here are some hints...
Thursday, August 14, 2008
In case you do not have an avid Pirate-wannabe in your house: The book How I Became a Pirate has a great sequence in it where little Jeremy Jacob is on the pirates' ship, going to sleep, and discovers that the Pirates have no books to read (only maps) and that they don't believe in tucking in bed. So this has become our nightly shorthand. He gets one free extra tuck in bed, and then I "become a Pirate" -- which means, of course NO MORE TUCKING.
The other night, though, he asked me HOW I would turn into a Pirate. "I just will. I'm magic," I replied, without thinking much about my answer. "But you're not a Fairy Godmother. Or a Fairy," he said. "So how?"
He had me there. But oh, wouldn't it be nice to be a Fairy Godmother?
Other constant refrains this summer include Son and Daughter's favorite inside joke, which never fails to crack them up helplessly. They press their foreheads to each other's and chant...
I'm starin' in ya eye. I'm starin' in ya eye.
followed by some explanation of what I'm supposed to witness:
I can go higher by myself!
Or the matter-of-fact:
I ready go swimming now.
In addition to endless requests to go to the swimming pool, we've had a series of favorite spots: Let's go to the library! Let's go to the gym! Let's to to the playground!
It's been a busy, fun, activity-filled summer. Made even better by the vacation we're just wrapping up. Oh, yes. MommyTime has been taking advantage of the post-ahead scheduler for the past few days. Where has the Time family been, you wonder? Great stories and photos coming soon. For now, I'll leave you with this. Try it yourself sometime. It's a laugh riot.
I'm starin' in ya eye. I'm starin' in ya eye. I'm starin' in ya eye.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
In case you were thinking to yourself just now, "hmmm, I could really go for some lasagna," I'd like to offer some insights based on an astonishingly successful dinner we had last week. (Astonishing because all FOUR of us in our family ate the exact same thing, and no one at the table used the word "yukky" at any point during the meal.)
* First, unless you are actually from Italy and know the difference, buy the Barilla no-boil noodles, and make your life ten times easier. They taste good, and they cut down the prep time by a GIANT amount of hassle; not only do you not have to dirty an extra pan and wait for the boiling to occur; you also don't have to handle boiling hot noodles while assembling the dish. And anyone building a lasagna with small children underfoot knows that the fewer vats of boiling water involved in a recipe the better.
* Second, unexpected vegetables are in fact edible! I very thinly sliced eggplant, broiled it until nicely browned, and layered it discretely under a sauce layer, and I stirred several kinds of mushrooms chopped small into the bechamel: the kids never noticed when they were not eating meat. Score for veggies!
* Third, make two; they're small. A regular lasagna pan makes way too much for us to eat before being so tired of the sight of this food that we get angry and want to throw things. (Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration. But you get the point.) Last week, I used a 9x9 cake pan and a small covered casserole, and made two lasagnas. After assembling, I froze the 9x9, and baked the other one for dinner. It takes about five minutes more to prep two pans than one, since the only difference in all the steps is the quantity. This basically means that it took me five minutes last week to cook dinner for sometime next week or the week after. Love that.
(Do note: shredded cheese freezes just fine; milk, not so much. If you want to freeze a lasagna and your recipe includes a bechemal sauce, use evaporated milk, which is stabilized and will not separate on freezing.)
My newest resolution is to start cooking double portions and freezing half a few times a week. Then I'll have back-up stocks in the freezer for nights when we're too tired to cook or home too late to start something from scratch. Just a few days ago, for example, I marinated a double batch of teriyake chicken and froze half. Other things that freeze well include meatballs or meatloaf; any soup without cream, milk or noodles (if your recipe calls for them, these can all be added when you reheat); muffins and breads; filled pastries/breads; waffles and pancakes.
If you're in a produce-rich part of the country as summer begins to wind down, don't forget that you can freeze many veggies and fruits too. For best results, wash and dry whole large fruits/veggies; when completely dry, spread on a clean tray in the freezer. Once frozen, package in zip-fastening bags. Do not prewash blueberries or other tiny items, as the washing water will make them freeze together in clumps. But do remember that you didn't wash them before, so that when you thaw them for use, you wash them thoroughly.
For me, fall is the busiest time of year. So I'm particularly looking forward to making the coming months easier by getting a little jump on my family food preparations at summer's end. Finally, I am going to use my freezer for something other than ice cream and unrecognizable leftovers!
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
I'm in the kitchen checking email. I hear water running in the bathroom. I think it is Son washing his hands, since he just used the potty. The washing seems to be taking extra-long, but I don't think much of it. A few minutes later, Son comes wandering by, looking for a box he can use to hold a collection of something.
The "hand-washing" noises are still going on in the bathroom.
It takes a moment for that to register. Then I call out suspiciously, "Daughter? What are you doing?"
"I get little bit water," she replies happily. I go to investigate.
Please note her clothes and bedraggled hair, the splashes on the mirror, and the full bucket perched precariously on the edge of the sink.
There is at least another bucketful of water on the floor, threatening to float away the tiny bathmat, and this is how she is reaching the faucet that is otherwise high out of her way.
"See, Mama. I did it! I get little bit water all by myself!" she proudly announces. Who could be mad at this face?
Monday, August 11, 2008
Foolery's little series on Bad Chemistry has got me thinking about what I learned from my various science teachers in school. Oh, I could tell you stories about dissecting fetal pigs that would curl your toes. But today, I'm going to focus on the lighter side of things: eighth-grade "Earth Science" with Mr. Lee. He was probably about 60, a stout African American man with a gravelly voice, unending energy, and (in retrospect) a tremendous devotion to his beloved subject matter. He was a vibrant, bouncing teacher with a good heart who certainly did not deserve what we dished out.
On the other hand, he was not always fully in touch with the predilections of the middle-school set.
One day, he drew a giant diagram of "a valley" on the chalkboard that looked exactly like this.
And then he added these lines while talking about the "THRUST!" (spoken with heavy emphasis on that particular word) of wind between the hills.
If you know anything about 8th graders (honestly, if you're older than 11), you know why this was a bad idea.
He also had a dog. A little brown dog. Named, of course, Brownie. He loved that dog, and he would tell us Brownie stories on a pretty regular basis.
One day, just to annoy Mr. Lee, David took the little stamps Mr. Lee was fond of putting at the tops of our papers -- stamps we thought were way too juvenile for our mature selves, stamps of the type one puts on preschooler's hands to fascinate the four-year-olds, stamps with little clowns on them, or smiley faces, or GOOD JOB! in red letters -- and stamped a few designs on Mr. Lee's glasses which were sitting on his big science teacher table. (You know, the table with the built-in sink, and gas jet, and giant, thick black top that nothing could burn or melt.)
When Mr. Lee came in from hall monitor duty, as the bell rang, he picked up his glasses, and put them on, only to stare at us, uncomprehending, through the images of several cheerful purple clowns.
Finally enraged and completely fed up, he thundered at us from under glowering eyebrows, "My three-legged dog Brownie behaves better than you do! If we were in a car taking a drive, Brownie would ride up front ... and YOU would ride in the back."
And somehow, although it sounds hilarious, that was violent enough coming from Mr. Lee to shame us all into silence for the rest of the day.
A few days later, we came into class and saw the film-strip projector poised in the middle of the room. Quickly, a whispered plan zipped like wildfire around the room. At exactly 10:20am, quietly, a few at a time, we began to get out of our chairs, until all but a few of the meekest [read: goody goody, chicken] students [yes, including me] were still sitting. Everyone else, about 25 of them, had formed a quiet line -- a line that snaked all around the room -- at the pencil sharpener, and took turns sharpening a pencil. Mr. Lee flustered and blustered, but what was he going to do? He tried to protest. "But we have to sharpen our pencils to take notes, Mr. Lee," said The Very Popular and Pretty Girl whose orangey-colored base formed a visible makeup line between her face and her neck. He was silenced. The boring film-strip was interrupted for a good 10 minutes.
One day Mr. Lee walked over to the light switch and turned off the lights in the room. Not knowing what would come next (there was no film-strip machine set up in the center of the room), we all got quiet. Then, quite suddenly, just as our eyes had gotten used to the gloom, he flicked on the lights. "LIGHT!" he boomed, while simultaneously banging violently on the old-style bell that normally sat on his desk, "travels faster than SOUND." Even at 11, I knew that light would surely travel faster than sound if the lights were turned on before the bell was ever touched. But the demonstration was certainly dramatic.
Note passed to me by Girl More Popular Than Me, But Still a Bit on the Dorky Side (perhaps her base wasn't orange enough?)
Did you watch Princess Diana's wedding? I got up at 5:00 this morning to watch it. It was sooooooo beautiful.
Note in reply to GMPTM from Me, So Dorky that I Didn't Even Know Princess Diana HAD Just Gotten Married
No. I didn't get to see it. Bummer.
W/B -- I hope you think so too.
Mental Note, causing untold mortification a few weeks later:
W/B = Write Back
It does NOT = "We're Best" or some other super-hip version of BFF (Best Friends Forever)
Hence "W/B -- I hope you think so too." makes no sense at all, looks desperate or stupid, and probably explains why GMPTM did NOT write back or pass me any other notes that semester.
Nor did she pass to me the big, glossy, souvenir Royal Wedding book full of photos and details that she proudly circulated when she finally was able to buy it sometime after the glorious event. "Oh," she said, on the way out of class that day, "I didn't think you'd be interested since you didn't see the wedding on TV."
The sum-total, then, of what I learned in eighth-grade science class would seem to be:
* Parts of one's anatomy can form wind tunnels under the correct conditions.I already knew that you see lightening before you hear its corresponding thunder.
* Choose your makeup base color carefully if you don't want to look like a clown.
* Guilt-by-association feels just as bad as justifiable guilt.
* Popular girls can be even meaner when they are pretending to be nice.
And it took me nearly two decades to learn the real lesson here, which is: teaching may be the most thankless work there is, but even one good student can make up for reams of bad. I wish now I'd been a little better to Mr. Lee.
Even though I did have fun laughing my way through Earth Science.
Saturday, August 9, 2008
Two years ago, we had the good fortune of having robins build a nest in the crook of a tree right outside our kitchen window. Every morning at breakfast, we could watch them building, or count eggs, or see them sitting, or witness them feeding each other. It was a wonderful few weeks as the nest progressed from just a few stalks of grass to a container full of nestlings.
In order to take lots of pictures of the process, I removed a screen, so that I could open the window slightly and have an unobstructed view. One night, it poured down rain, and we watched the mother robin puff herself up and then spread her wings like an umbrella over her eggs to keep the whole interior of the nest warm and dry. Here she is, her dark glossy feathers covered in raindrops, her body blending into the backdrop of wet bark and the night's darkness all around her, protecting her unhatched chicks from the weather.
For more Photo Hunters' interpretations of today's theme (dark), check out TNChick.
Friday, August 8, 2008
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Have you ridden horses enough to experience a gallop without falling off? I'm not a very experienced rider, but it's something I am strangely okay at. I have kept my seat more than once on a horse that tried to throw me off to get to the barn quicker. I am pretty fearless. If I weren't severely allergic to the darn things, I would be much sadder than I currently am to be living in the suburbs rather than out in the country where I could have horses. (I have learned a few things since the height of my intense burning love for all things horse related, back around ages 9 to 11, and one of them is that no matter how hard one works, it is never practicable to keep a horse in a suburban backyard.) Due to the allergies, I have resigned myself to the fact that I will not own horses until I have enough money to hire a full-time stable boy to do all the maintenance. This means, I will certainly never own horses.
But I still like to ride them every chance I get. Which amounts to about twice every five years.
But still, I know the difference between a gallop and a canter.
If you have never ridden, I will tell you the difference. Riding a galloping horse feels like you have been put on a four-legged pogo stick with stirrups and told to wait it out while the pogo legs independently make their way to the far end of the field. You can't keep your mouth tightly shut, since your teeth will chatter their way out of your head, and you can't keep it slightly open, since you will invariably bite your tongue. You can ride a galloping horse more smoothly by "posting," which means rising and falling in the saddle in a graceful and rhythmic manner to offset the jolting. But this is sort of like saying that you can win the America's Cup by tacking your sailboat very precisely at all the right moments depending on your reading of the wind. Sure, you might accomplish a good tack or two, assuming you know a few basics about sailing -- but you sure as heck won't win that race without a whole lot more practice than I have riding horses.
Okay, so now that my metaphors are good and mixed up, I'll move on to the canter. If a riding a galloping horse is one long session of vertical jolting, then riding a cantering horse is like sitting on one of those gorgeous, homemade, wooden rocking horses you see at craft fairs. Seriously. The horse's stride lengthens for a canter, and the order of footfalls changes (or something; I don't know; ask a real rider), so that although you are going faster at a canter than at a gallop, you are riding easier. Oh, so much easier. The smoothness of a canter explains once and for all why or how anyone could ever have imagined that a horse on rockers moves in a way that approximates a real one on four legs.
And this extended comparison leads me to the real point of this post, which is: I ran a mile in 8:32 this past Sunday!
How is that related to galloping and cantering, you ask? I will tell you.
I have discovered that for me running at a pace around 6.4-6.7 miles an hour (which equals running a mile in a little over nine minutes) basically feels like galloping. It's hard work, and my feet are moving fast, but it feels like constant jolting. If I up the treadmill speed just a bit, to somewhere between 6.7-7 miles an hour (a pace that leads to sub-9-minute miles), suddenly my stride lengthens. I am actually taking fewer steps. In essence, I feel like I am running slower, even though I am running faster, because I change feet less frequently. Sure, it's harder work. But it feels much more like flying and much less like I'm Pogo Mommy the Sucks-Wind Runner.
And so, in jumping aboard Mrs. G's 5K Ass Project '08, I have decided to embark on a little racehorse fantasy. Only this time, instead of Zyrtec, Albuterol, and riding boots to get me through the horsiness, all I need is my trusty running shoes, treadmill, and sports bra. Because, you see, I have switched it up a bit -- and now, instead of playing the rider, I will be playing the horse. I'm jumping on board her exercise challenge with the goal of working myself up to THREE sub-nine-minute miles in a row. I'll be running a few days a week and swimming a few days a week, with some weights or Pilates thrown in when I feel like it. I can't make myself a rigid schedule of what I'll do when, since I know I won't stick to that, and it will just make me feel like a loser to screw up The Plan. But I will do my very best to exercise four days a week, to alternate swimming with running (must be kind to those fragile racehorse knees, you know), and to work on cantering all the way through the winter. There is something pretty wonderful about running with the wind flying past my ears, so this is me, signing on for the motivation that will help me meet my goals.
Mrs. G wants us to post pictures of our 5K asses, but I'm not quite prepared to do that yet. But I will put up occasional posts about my progress, and start a little widget in the sidebar for keeping tabs and staying accountable. And I'll take some photos and some measurements for my own record keeping, so that I can chime in with some statistics about my decreasing mile times corresponding to my decreasing hip measurements (providence and alignment of planets be willing). If you want to join too, SIGN ON! We could all use a little group support for our exercise goals, right? Jump on over to Derfwad Manor, sign yourself in, and make a plan. C'mon it will be fun. And remember:
See the racehorse. Feel the racehorse. Be the racehorse. If I can do it, you can too.