The other day I enjoyed a rarity- coffee with two girlfriends, no husbands, and no kids at an actual coffee shop for a couple of hours!  There's a Starbucks I can walk to from home and one right by work, so I do end up there all the time.  But, I wanted to try to break out of that and go somewhere interesting and different.  Somewhere local and unique.  I suggested "Let's NOT go to Starbucks."  Everyone wracked their brains and we ended up at... Peet's.  I guess it was a step in the right direction, but still not what I was looking for.  

Well, this morning I stumbled upon an awesome resource- the Starbucks Delocator.  

Christine Hanson has set up this site where you can type in your zipcode and find out all the local, non-corporate owned coffee shops, bookstores, and movie theatres in your area so you can patronize them.  And the site depends on public contributions.  Check it out to find out cool places near you to try and add if the cool places you already know about aren't on there, add them!  People like me, who are newer to your area will appreciate it. You can even use this service from your cell phone.  When you are out and about it can look up places for you and text back the info.  

This is a great way to have some varied experiences, build community by getting to know local shop owners and workers, and put your dollars into your community's economy.  See you at the coffee shop!  


The Fruits of My Labor

As the holidays approach, I often start thinking about craft projects to undertake.  I love being crafty, but sometimes this is my only craft "season". So as my family knows, from often being the recipients of my efforts, there tends to be one creative crafty project I actually complete per year.  This year's inspiration:  

The Pottery Barn fabric fruit set my son has.  And you thought organic produce was expensive!  This small pile of inedible produce was almost $40 after tax and shipping.  But it's been used and appreciated way more than anything else I could have possibly gotten with that $40 gift certificate to Pottery Barn.  I decided to make fabric fruit of my own for Turtle's cousin, who will be receiving a play kitchen for Christmas.  (It's so great that they are so young I can post what they are getting for Christmas on the internet and they'll still have no idea!)

A trip to Jo-Ann's scored me two $4.99 stacks of fabric squares in produce colors and a bag of stuffing.  I started drawing patterns for fruit sections on paper based on examining the fruit we already had.  I winged it, looking at the purchased fruit for help and realizing that the degree of curvature, length, width, and number of sections are what makes the difference between a fat tomato, small orange, and a slim banana.  

A little while later, I had an orange, banana, and tomato!  A bit lumpy, yes. Some accidental square-ish corners.  But I had the hang of it.  And, hey, I haven't used a sewing machine in about 5 years.  To make the fruit better than this, you have to sew very smooth curves with no angles in the seams from lifting the foot up and turning the fabric like I did.  And if I did it again, I would stuff them more so they would fill out and be firmer.  If I have time later, I plan to add leaves and stems and such, too.  But I was excited to move on and tackle strawberries.  

I found this great red fabric with black dots on it that reminded me of strawberries, some green for the leaves, the green ribbon the fabric squares came tied in for stems, and a little leftover quilting batting (from the last sewing project 5 years ago). I drew the pattern by thinking about a strawberry and decided it would need 3 panels.  Pottery Barn does not have strawberries, so I am very proud of myself that I did this one with no model.  

Here's the sewn and stuffed strawberries, awaiting finishing touches.  To make the leaves, I cut star shapes out of batting, then traced it onto the green fabric with one of those white sewing pencils.  Then I sandwiched the batting between two layers of green fabric, stitched along my tracing and cut just outside the seams.  It would be way easier to just use felt, but I was determined to not go back to the store.  So, this worked to make leaves that keep their own shape.  

Next was hand stitching green ribbon to the center of each star and then stitching the star to the top of the strawberry, closing the strawberry as I went.   

Here is the first finished strawberry!  It was labor intensive, but totally worth it.  I had so much fun and was so happy with the result that I made 5 more, 3 for each boy.  It took most of my day today to sit around doing 6 strawberries, but it was really relaxing for me as I almost never get to just focus on working with my hands. And, I could talk to my family while I did it, so it was better than doing almost any other type of work that I usually find myself doing that requires brain power and my full attention.

Aren't they cute!  Turtle and his cousin will each receive a delicious basket of strawberries for Christmas.  His cousin will also receive all the other fruit I make over the next few days.  It's a lot of fun to make the kids their toys instead of just buying them and to know how much fun they'll have playing with them.  This was also a great craft for a busy person like me who doesn't often get to take the time because the items are small. You get to design, plan, and sew, but you can finish one piece of fruit in less than 30 minutes if you know what you are doing. So there is a great feeling of satisfaction and no danger that you will leave the project 80% done for years like there would be if I tackled trying to sew myself a whole outfit or something.  

I also picked up some colorful doggie themed fabric squares and was thinking the next small items I could easily make would be bean bags for the kids.  Rectangles stuffed with rice or beans- how easy is that?!  And I was even thinking of trying to create a dog chew toy out of some old jeans denim for my brother's new puppy.  But I have to figure out how to sew the seams super strong so it won't fall apart right away.  I have some old jingle bells that maybe could go inside...  


You Know You're A Mom When (No. 2)

Every product you ever purchased for the purpose of pampering yourself
sits unused and expired in your bathroom...

and pampering yourself has been redefined as finding a few minutes once a month to use:

usually with a small audience asking "what are you doing?"  and "can I do it, too?"

And his DIY pedicure looks better than yours...

...because there was no chance of sitting still with your feet up afterward!


You Know You're A Mom When (No.1)

Your grandmother's antique setee...

...serves as a parking garage.

Christmas Lights at the End of the Tunnel

The week started out with:

1. Eye infection.

2. Increasing job dissatisfaction (for both of us).

3. Long, tiring days and urgent business in the evenings preventing enjoying spending time on fun holiday crafts.

But has developed into:

1. Picking up some needed winter clothes for Turtle at 60% off suggested retail price.

2. Long, long lunch alone with a a great friend.

3. Potential job opportunities on the horizon (for both of us).

4. Huge potty successes. Considering toddler underwear as stocking stuffer.

5. Neighbor built real snowman in front yard.

6. About to have two weeks off.  

7.  Eye has cleared up.  

And, to top it all off, I actually managed to put stamps on Christmas cards before mailing them this year.

Last year, in a major idiot move, I mailed the whole lot with no stamps. I started this blog writing about that experience. It’s been fun to have this outlet and I wish I kept up with it more. It’s kind of sad to see my last post was election night. I have not felt very creative or social much in the latter part of the fall. Just busy, distracted, and a bit withdrawn. Mostly a lot of work taking up my time and then ruminating on my job situation in the free time. Hoping to do something about that soon.

Meanwhile, can’t wait to be “off the clock” for two weeks and just enjoy family and the holiday spirit!

Happy Holidays to you all!!


On This Election Night, I'm Sure Glad My Son is Not 18!

ME: So remember I told you tonight we are picking a leader?


Everyone gets to pick which is the leader they want and write it on a paper and give it to someone and then tomorrow we find out which leader we're going to have. I get to pick my favorite and Daddy gets to pick his favorite.

Do I?

Yes, sure. Which one do you pick?

You tell me their names again.

John and Barack.

John and Barack. That's difficult for me to say.

No it itsn't, you just said it.

It's difficult.

To say barack?


But you just said it, so you did a good job. Which one do you pick? Do you want John or do you want Barack?

I want John.




Because he's my best.

He's your favorite?



Because he lives next door.

Oh, you like john that lives in our neighborhood. But this is a different john.

Brian's dad?

No, that's another John we know. This is a different John that you've never met and I've never met and Daddy's never met.

Mommy and Daddy pick Barack. He's our favorite.

I pick John.


I like him?

But why do you like him?

I love him.

Are you telling me you are Republican?


Are you serious?



Hamburgers Our Country Needs

Sunday night we were walking through the neighborhood to a friend's house, singing silly songs about the hamburgers we were about to have for dinner. Turtle shouted "Look, Mommy!  That sign says hamburgers!" as he spotted an Obama-Biden campaign sign in someone's front yard.  "Yes, it does!", I heartily replied.  He became excitedly surprised to realize that as we walked there were several more hamburger signs all leading the way toward our dinner.  "Look, another hamburger sign!  And another one! Mommy, those signs tell us which way to go!"  

Yes, they do.  


She's So Sensitive!

I have many memories of hearing (through my tears) the accusation that I was "too sensitive".  In adulthood, I grew to accept this as one of my weaknesses.  I worked on overcoming it.  

Until I spent the night on a friend's couch and picked up her copy of Raising Your Spirited Child and read the chapter on sensitivity.  I was looking for insights regarding my son, but found that I was recognizing myself in what I read.  And what I read was empowering.  Being sensitive, it turns out, is not a bad or wimpy thing or the result of some inability to develop a better characteristic.  It is an innate heightened perception of, and usually reaction to, sensory information.  You can't help it and it isn't bad, it's just the way you are.  

That means for me that the downside is the time I was unable to fight back tears of frustration in an important professional meeting.  But the upside is that my ability to perceive others' emotions and intentions from subtle cues in their voices, facial expressions, and body language enables me to connect easily with and work really well with others.  Which translates to the time I was able to successfully mediate a huge conflict between colleagues.  
For other sensitive people I know*, the downside may be an inability to let go of slight imperfections and inconsistencies and just efficiently finish that household project.  But the upside is excelling in perceiving, diagnosing, and fixing imperfections and inconsistencies in any type of mechanical system. Which translates to being a damned fine engineer who catches little things that no one else does and saves the day.  

And for my son, the downside is being overwhelmed by loud noises, such as the Sesame Street Live performance we tried unsuccessfully to go to.  But the upside is being the only kid in class who hears everything going on in the room and notices where everyone and everything is. Which translates to being the only one that notices the child that didn't receive her milk at snack time or remembers that so-and-so's shoes are under the slide outside.  

So, as it turns out, we are a sensitive family.  No doubt genetics played a large part here! And that means that we are more likely to get on each other's nerves and to need strategies for protecting ourselves from the onslaught of sensory information that we have a hard time not noticing.  

And we are fortunate that our sensitivities are not too broad and too intense. But what would it be like if they were?  I read an amazing article in the October 19th New York Times Magazine about an experimental school that is making gains with autistic teens.  The passage that struck me was this:

A child born at risk of an (Autism Spectrum Disorder) has cognitive and sensitivity issues that inhibit engagement. Pleasures enjoyed by a typical baby can upset him: a mother’s face seems too close, so the infant cranes away; the father’s tickles may produce fear reflexes rather than laughter. Meanwhile the sunlight is burning his eyes, the diaper scrapes his skin and the baby begins avoiding interaction with people at the cost of normal brain development.

It is incredibly sad and fascinating to think about this scenario.  Extreme sensitivity would lead a child to withdraw in an effort to protect itself, which would lead to a lack of reward for parents who tried to interact with the child in the normal way, which sets up a downward spiral of increasing detachment between them.  The child would lack the normal physical and emotional stimuli that lead to intellectual stimulation and proper development because of the lack of interaction.  And there is no way for anyone to recognize that this is what is going on at first.  By the time the adults become sure that something is truly amiss, critical periods of development have already passed by.  And, as the author states:

I begin to picture the brain metaphorically as a tangled ball of Christmas lights. When you plug it in, there are strands that light up perfectly and there are dark zones where a single burned-out bulb has caused a line to go out. If the bulb for Exchanging-Smiles-With-Mother doesn’t light up, then Empathy won’t be kindled farther along the strand, or Playfulness, or Theory of Mind (the insight that other people have different thoughts from yours). The electrical current won’t reach the social-skill set, the communication skills, creativity, humor or abstract thinking.

The exciting news is that even later in life, this school has helped autistic teens become more socially and emotionally connected to others, primarily through emphasizing intense interaction with the adults around them.  If only we could understand the cause of extreme sensitivity in the first place and lower it somehow.  Or at least recognize it and intervene as early as possible.  

And, if only we were more understanding of the normal human spectrum of sensitivity and could appreciate it's upsides more than we admonish people for its downsides.  

The next time I am accused of oversensitivity, I think I will (tearfully) reply, "Yes, I'm thankful for the gift".  

*am married to 


So Much Time, So Little To Do...

How is it possible that it is only 5:24 pm and I am able to sit and relax and blog while the sun still shines dappled light between autumn leaves in my front yard and I still feel mentally alert? How is it possible that I was able to leave work the minute it is supposed to end, drive to a salon and sit in a massage chair catching up on reading, happily waiting 30 minutes until they could squeeze me in for a pedicure?  How is it possible that after that I still had time to buy a few groceries I needed and check out a bakery I've been wanting to check out and buy some treats for myself? And that I know that after blogging, I will still be able to check my email, do some laundry, pay the bill, read some more, and finish a rental movie I started last night before I hit the sack?  

Yes, you guessed it.  They are out of town.  

I have the house and my brain to myself for the next 8 days.  It's amazing to me how just knowing that fact alters my psyche, and outlook, so much.  

Driving away from work, I remember thinking "I've got 7 or 8 hours until I need to go to bed. Wow.  What all can I do?" Usually, I'm thinking "Ugh, I've got to rush around to do errands, pick him up, get home, deal with snack/mood, make dinner for everyone, eat, do the bed/bath routine thing, and maybe I'll get 30-60 minutes to myself after that before bed, but that might get sucked up by domestic business or I'll be too tired to enjoy it or make productive use of it. Let me just survive tonight and every other night and make it to the weekend".  

Now I've gotta figure out how to more often find a happy medium between these two extremes when they get back.  How do you do it?  


Using Up Sick Time

After confirming what I already knew was true, that I have a virus kicking my ass that I can't do anything about, my doctor asked me what my job was and was anyone sick in my house? He laughed in pity when I answered that I'm a teacher and I have a 2 year old who goes to daycare and gave me that look that said this will continue to be my reality for a while.

On the bright side, being home sick has allowed me to catch up on politics and culture by reading Time and Newsweek and watching video snippets on my laptop. We don't have TV hooked up, so what to veg out to when you're sick? I've been watching a bunch of Daily Show, Colbert Report, and Oprah clips.

The fact that I haven't blogged in a while is a good indicator of my life right now. It means I haven't had much time for myself, or that which I have had has been when I'm too tired and fuzzy to be creative or bother to want to express myself. I think up posts all the time, but they don't get executed.

Had a long talk with my sister today. She recently embarked on SAHM-hood with 2 kids (maternity leave turned into resigning). I recently resumed being a WM (after summer break). We analyzed it from every angle. They both suck. We're both exhausted all the time. We both get nothing done. We both are barely trying to get by most days. 

We're going to track it over the next few months, but so far it's a tie.


Trying to Eat Locally

Since I posted my initial thoughts on
eating locally and slowly, I have:

•finished reading
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
•visited 4 different local farmer's markets and actually asked questions regarding the locations of the farms and the farming practices instead of just shoving money in people's hands and walking away
•purchased almost solely organic produce
•slowed down in the supermarket thinking of the "Vegetannual" and considering which of the items for sale were actually in season locally before I purchased them, looked at the stickers and labels on produce and chose only those grown in my home state California, which I decided is my beginner's definition of "local". Mind you, I do understand that it being summer right now and California, it has been super easy for me to eat in season and locally. We'll see how winter goes...
•switched my family from processed high sugar flavored yogurt to plain organic yogurt and started a new breakfast habit of plain yogurt with fresh berries and organic granola. Everyone loves it!
•bought some grass fed steaks and grilled 'em
•got a haircut and a pedicure (OK, this has nothing to do with food, but Yay!, right?)
•bought a grass fed pork shank
•used my aging cookbooks and Google to try to determine what a shank is and how to cook one
•called my mom halfway through the cooking of the shank for emergency troubleshooting
•ruined the pork shank but cheerily attempted to masticate some of it with my family before tossing the rest, Omega 3's and grass fed premium down the drain
•bought cuts of meat from the meat counter in the supermarket for maybe the 7th time in my life
•attempted to have a conversation with the butcher about the geographic origins of the chicken I wanted to purchase
•realized the "butcher" was actually some college aged dude who didn't know anything:

Me: Hi! Do you know where this chicken comes from?
Butcher: Uh...I think all of our chicken is from Foster Farms
Me: So, where is Foster Farms? I mean, I know they are a huge national company, but where do they actually raise the chickens?
Butcher: I don't know.
(Then he walked out from behind the meat counter to the pre-packaged chicken area and started trying to read the Foster Farms labels, so I did, too, until he found one and shared with me that)
Butcher: Hey, here you go, it says "California Grown"

I'm pretty proud of myself for beginning to take seriously the quest for at least KNOWING where our food comes from and how its been treated before it gets to us. And for making the effort to discuss all of these ideas and issues about food with my husband, convincing a man who mostly views food as fuel and would rather not have to eat as it interrupts his day, to change his eating habits.

Now, I've also gotten busy and resorted to last minute processed foods and had a hard time keeping up with the frequent shopping that organic produce necessitates. But, at least we're giving it a go.

Next on my plate? I'm reading
The Omnivore's Dilemma now. So, we'll see where that leads...


Ahead of Myself

I am always ahead of myself. I drop things because my feet are already leaving the kitchen before my hands have gotten a good hold on the plate I need to carry. I bump into things because I'm already walking through the door anyway even though my hand found the knob to be a little stuck and hasn't gotten the chance to finish opening it. My hip hits the corner of the counter because my mind is already in the next room. My head lives in the future. Sometimes the distant future, but most of the time at the very least a few moments from now.

The good part of this? I'm excellent at planning things, at visualizing how the logistics of something will work out. I'm always prepared, like a Boy Scout, anticipating what could go wrong and what I might need to have with me. I don't fall prey to procrastination often, so I don't suffer the stress of the looming deadline. I'm good at saving money. I remember to take pictures so we can remember the moment later.

The bad part of this? The bruises and spilled food. The overpacking. The worry over how the action of this moment will impact the next and 10 years from now. The preparation for the anticipated reaction to my actions that may or may not ever actually materialize. That one causes me to rehearse conversations and confrontations, usually in the shower and while I'm driving. When I'm in overdrive, I even imagine how I'll respond to something that I don't actually have any evidence that some other person is going to say to me. The sitting out on fun now things to make sure I stay on top of future things. The internal reactions I have when things do not come out as I imagined or hoped or expected. The external reactions I have to things not meeting my expectations and how those effect the people around me and my relationship to them. The difficulty with spontaneity and living in the moment.



Exercising My Right To Flush

Last night, after brushing his teeth, I gently excused Turtle out of my bathroom so that I could dare to go to the bathroom alone. (If a 2 year old heavily breathing and scratching at the bathroom door is considered alone).

When finished with my business, I opened the door to be rewarded by a full blown meltdown. The issue?

Let me quote: "Waaaaaah. I want to flush your pee-pee! Waaaaaaah. I want to flush Mommy's pee-pee!"

I would just like to go on record here that I did NOT videotape this. I could have. So, in 15 years, when Turtle is mortified by naked baby pictures and other such embarassments, I would like some credit for NOT saving this particular moment* for posterity.

I will enjoy the pleasures of flushing my own pee-pee without complaint this weekend, down a hotel** toilet at that, as I embark on a 48-hour childless, husbandless, women-only trip that I have needed for 2 years.

*(10 minutes)

**(OK, motel)


What's In Season?

(You can buy this vegetannual poster here.) 

The Vegetannual

I am currently relishing in reading
Barbara Kingsolver's book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Today I sat in the park at toddler hour (10 am) without my toddler, drinking my chai, and reading about the mythical, metaphorical plant Kingsolver invented, the vegetannual. She invented this plant to help the horticulturally challenged have a handy dandy way of understanding which produce is in season throughout the year and why.

Somehow I have gained the knowledge that cherries and peaches are summer fruits and cranberries are in season in winter, I think? Winter is definitely squash, or is that fall? and a mango in January isn't normal. But I'm kind of shaky on the whole thing because for as long as I have been in charge of grocery shopping, I have gone to supermarkets that feature all produce almost all year round. I haven't gardened much, but I've tried a couple of times and remember that seed packets have maps and charts on the back telling you where things will grow and when to plant them. I know my old neighbors cucumbers were out last July. But, uh...okay that's about it for me.

Kingsolver reminds us that most of the produce we enjoy are annual crops of flowering plants. All flowering plants share a life cycle abbreviated as: winter seeds lying in ground waiting, spring sprout, shoots, leaves, buds, flowers, pollinate, fruits, store extra energy as tuber, root, or bulb, seeds lie dormant until it starts over again next spring. All of the annual plants are growing roughly across the same growing season between frosts, but since we eat different parts of different plants, different produce items will be in season at different times. So, depending of course on latitude and climate and length of season for the particulars, the basic sequence of produce that is in season in any given place will follow that life cycle. Think about it this way: lettuces are leaves, peaches are fruit, beets are tubers. Meaning, lettuce will be in season first in the spring, peaches next in the summer, and beets toward the very end of the growing season in late fall. Isn't this brilliant?! Something I can understand and easily remember.

Kingsolver's explanation is much more award winning author than mine, so I invite you to read an article adapted from her book called
"Stalking the Vegetannual".

Think Globally, Eat Locally

Now all this talk of in season, out of season is related, of course, to the travels of our food. You can't eat an out of season cherry unless it is in season somewhere else in the world at that moment, which means that someone is shipping it across great distances to you.

Some years ago, I became more aware of the distances that foods travel and the ecological impact that has and I began to read the signs and stickers at the grocery store that told me where my grapes and bananas were coming from. A handful of times I even decided not to buy something because it came from too far away and lately I've tried looking for locally produced labels when I have a choice. But most of the time, I just buy what we're in the mood for, the recipe calls for, or what strikes my fancy when I see it. And although I've been to the farmer's market on and off over the years, it has been more of a fun weekend outing than a serious way of providing food for my household. For sure we are snacking on out of season crude oil dependent tropical transports most of the time and giving it no regard.

Kingsolver's book asks the reader to give some regard to this. I will probably look further into the
Slow Food Movement and groups like Locavores. I might revisit the idea of joining a local CSA. I've looked into it several times, but never taken the step. I might at the very least try to frequent the farmer's market more often. I might stop buying out of season foods and try to find recipes for the in season ones. But, herein lies the rub for me...

I believe in this issue and agree with it, but being non passionate about gardening, food shopping, meal planning, cooking, and all things related, I'm not finding an inner fire to get me actually making big changes on this one. And I fear that plus becoming used to being able to get all produce all the time is going to make it hard for a lot of us to do the right thing when it comes to sticking with local food.

Change takes time, though. So, at least understanding the vegetannual and thinking about it when I shop is a good first step!

Further Food For Thought

If our historical relationship to food and the ecological impact of agriculture interest you, I also recommend reading anything written by
Michael Pollan or Vandana Shiva.


Let Them Play!

Driving the other day, I heard this story on NPR about Gever Tulley who founded The Tinkering School near San Francisco.  In this ultimate summer camp experience, kids get to stay for a week and build creations of their own design (with some guidance) and test them out. The use of power tools is encouraged, as is creativity, risk-taking, and intuition.  Kids must make real things and try them for real.  No models or look-alikes here.  They build boats and find out whether they'll sink or float when they get in them.  They cross bridges they've designed and drive cars and motorcycles they collaborated on.  They fail and fail again and get hurt and go back to the drawing board and fail again and think on it some more and persist until they succeed.  

Tulley says in the NPR interview that one of the experiences that inspired his camp was observing a mother scold and remind her son about her "no playing with sticks" rule.  I'm with Tulley on this one.  Lord help this next generation if they haven't even been allowed to play with sticks.  Why, when I visited Paraguay, the host family I stayed with had a 3 year old boy who I observed playing in the backyard unsupervised with his father's machete.  Okay, admittedly, that kind of freaked me out.  But, clearly we are overdoing it when we protect our kids from sticks (not to mention denying them a connection to nature and natural objects).   

Tulley is working on an upcoming book, "50 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do" and gave a TED talk on 5 of them: 

This reminds me of the recently popular "Dangerous" books by Conn & Hal Iggulden.  Just today I read an article called "How to let kids be kids" in this month's Redbook.  It made the case for the downside of overscheduling our kids and overstructuring their play, quoting experts who explained the value of free play driven by curiosity about the world and how it works.  I remember reading a long time ago the quip that all toddlers start out by dropping and throwing and hitting things with the basic mental attitude of, "what will happen when I do this?" and that scientists are just the people who managed to not get that squashed out of them by their parents and the educational system.  

I'm so glad to see this resurging interest in letting kids be kids and just play and explore their world.  I remember the elaborate games my siblings and I used to invent on rainy days stuck inside and the little inventions I used to make when left with free time and craft supplies to think and tinker.  In elementary school I helped run the filmstrips (god, I'm old!) and the teacher would ask you to "rewind" the filmstrip when it was over, which was a laborious process done by hand. I took a toilet paper tube and an empty jewelry gift box, some scissors and glue, and invented a filmstrip rewinder. You could put the film roll in a tube on one end, feed it through a slot across the empty box into a slot in the tube on the other end and you could quickly rewind it into the second tube with your finger.  Plus, you could view the slides on it against the white background of the box as you did so.  

To this day, obviously, I remember the details of that invention, how it worked, and how proud I was of thinking of it, making it, and trying it out to find that it worked.  If you fill a kid's life with pre-packaged toys meant to be used in pre-thought of ways and guided activities with rules, how will they ever invent something?  or have the self-esteem that comes with that?  

Which reminds me to share with you an astounding article I read some months back called "How children lost the right to roam In four generations". In it, the author interviews one family and shows with maps the diminished range that each succeeding generation was allowed to explore unsupervised. I know that as an elementary aged kid, I regularly hopped on my bike or roller skates and went up to a couple miles out on my own or with friends. And that was sans helmet or cell phone or water bottle or firm deadline for arrival.   Now even though I'm in a sleepy suburban, family friendly neighborhood, I really wonder just how far I'll feel comfortable letting my son go.  Has anything actually changed in terms of the risk?  Or just my perception of it due to scary news stories and such?  It's an important question.  

For much more along these lines, check out Free Range Kids , a website devoted to helping "our kids embrace life!". It's got thought provoking articles and practical ideas on how to get back to the good-old-go-outside-and-play-until-dinnertime days!

I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts on this topic.  How far were you allowed to roam as a kid?  Did you own a pocket knife, try driving a car, play with fire, etc, before you were a teen? 


Driving Test

Turtle (whining): I want a snack in the car!

Me: I don't have a snack in the car. We'll get one when we get home in a few minutes.

Turtle (demanding): I want a snack in the car!

Me (ignoring him):

Turtle (in a surprisingly angry yelling voice): Mommy! I want a snack in the car! Mom! I want a snack! I need a snack! (continue repeating for 5 minutes with increasing intensity and tears)

Me (humming a tune to myself to help with the ignoring): hmm hmm hmmm hmmmmm

Turtle pulls top buckle of carseat down to belly button level and gives me the "oh yeah, what are you gonna do about that!" look.

Me (sternly): Push that buckle back up now.

Turtle (ignoring me): 

Me: Turtle, push that buckle up or I can't drive. (note to reader: This has worked in the past.)

Turtle (surprisingly calmly, with a mischevous smirk): Don't drive.

Me (damn! called my bluff!):  OK, then I guess I'll have to pull over and park and we can't drive home to get that snack.

Turtle (wickedly calmly): Okay.

Me (double damn!): Turtle, if you don't push that buckle back up a police man is going to come and we are going to get in trouble.

Turtle, eyes wide, quickly pushes buckle into proper position.

[Note: Good to know that although my 2 year old is at the peak of testing me, he has a healthy fear of the long arm of the law! The weird thing is that other than pointing out police cars as a type of vehicle, we have never explained to him what a police officer is or what they do. No matter. If it works, it works. I'm using it again!]


Underwater Astonishments

I have been meaning to share this for a while. This is just one of the amazing TED talks that I've been enjoying. Be prepared to be wowed by nature!

David Gallo shows jaw-dropping footage of amazing sea creatures, including a color-shifting cuttlefish, a perfectly camouflaged octopus, and a Times Square's worth of neon light displays from fish who live in the blackest depths of the ocean.



Our 24 hours off were great!  The best part?  Getting to be irresponsible! 


•hanging out talking, sitting in the street in front of our house
•taking the dry cleaner's tag off my not-worn-for-over-2-years-little-black-dress and leaving the open safety pin lying around on the table (HA!) 
•we didn't even head out to the restaurant until after Turtle's normal bedtime (tapas, strong drinks, and live music!) 
•sleeping in
•a quiet breakfast out (crepes and espresso!)  
•we hit the spa and took care of ourselves!

The worst part?

•Around 6:30 am I suffered from a very realistic auditory hallucination of Turtle waking up and crying "Mommy!  Mommy!".  It took me a few minutes to realize we were alone in the house and all was quiet and he wasn't there.  Spooky!  How sad is that? My brain is so accustomed to hearing that EVERY DAY for the last 2 years, that it had to manufacture the hallucination to fill in the blank on the one day I was supposed to enjoy sleeping in.   

The best part?

•The "Quiet Room" at the spa.  You lounge in a comfy reclining upholstered leather chair with footrest sipping cucumber infused water and read, daydream, or doze off in a dimly lit completely silent room.  Heaven.  Pure heaven.  I have got to build me one of these at our house!  



It's the beginning of 24 hours to ourselves. The last time we had that was over a year ago. Turtle just drove away in Nana's car, hugging his teddy bear and hot wheel car, waving, and saying "see you later, Mommy". We're dressing up and going out on a real date tonight and sleeping in and getting massages tomorrow before we pick him up. But, right now I've got 4 hours to myself before Backtire even gets home from work. I hardly know what to do with myself or where to begin...but I'm sure I'll figure it out!


A Day Off

Early in motherhood I read some article reminding moms that "when you are gone, it won't matter whether you kept a clean house, but that you sat down and playing with your kids and gave them your attention". A nice sentiment and excuse not to do housework, but let's have a reality check. 

Inspired by this advice, I decided to take a break from doing the normal thing, that is picking up after all of us as we go about our business. This is usually done here and there after each activity is finished and in a couple of bigger spurts. At the end of the evening, I often like to sweep as many toys out of eyesight as possible so that I can sit and relax in the living room and pretend to live a child-free existence for 11 minutes before I fall asleep on the couch trying to read the same articles out of a months old magazine that I don't even recognize I've already read. Hey, this memory loss thing could really save me money on subscriptions!

But, I digress. For one 24 hour period, I made a conscious effort to sit down and relax or do something fun that I enjoy each time I was tempted to put things away. I wanted to know how the carefree moms live. Here is the result:

kitchen table

coffee table


Which reminds me of this hilarious stay at home mom's great answer to "what do you do all day?"

Seriously, if I even took off a second day, let alone a week, well, it just makes me realize that neat freak tendencies aside, I am only one small slip down the slippery slope away from

those people you see on daytime TV that need household clutter interventions. And I only have one kid and no pets! 

I have a hard time letting it get like this and would rather keep up with it all day so that my environment is more relaxing and enjoyable to me.  Therein lies the paradox:  take time off to relax in an environment that grows ever-unrelaxing as you relax or keep up with it to keep the environment relaxing, but never truly just sit and relax. Aaaaaaah!   

While I sat during my time off and relaxed amongst the mess, I read the August issue of Oprah magazine and found out that once again, researchers are being paid to scientifically conclude what we all already know.  The discovery this time?  That having a husband in the household adds 7 extra hours of chores a week for a woman compared to when she was unmarried, while he does an hour less per week than when he was a bachelor.  The article says the researchers didn't know WHY this is. 

Can I just respond scientifically?  


I also read recently (source unremembered) that international studies show that regardless of economic class or whether the woman stays at home or works part- or full-time, basically the woman to man housework ratio is 2:1 around the world in industrialized nations.  And the childcare ratio is far worse, childcare being defined as physically taking care of the needs of the child such as dressing, bathing, and feeding, but not counting wresting on the floor or reading bedtime stories.  

No wonder I'm tired all the time and busy all the time, even though I don't feel like I "do" anything or "get anything done" all day sometimes.  And I don't even do heavy duty cleaning or have very high standards for cleanliness.  So, it could be much worse.  

I guess we've still got a long way to go, baby!  


Kill Me Now

8:24 arrive home from visiting grandparents for the day (note: no nap), attempt at carseat to crib transfer foiled

8:25-8:57 take off pants, change diaper, and attempt to soothe exhausted half asleep sobbing, thrashing 2 year old who doesn't know where he is and why he was woken up from a deep slumber, finally have success with tight hold, rocking, and 15 minutes of endlessly repeated whispered rhythmic recitation of Goodnight Moon from memory

8:57-9:08 enjoy quietly sitting in rocking chair with warm sleeping child on my lap, await deeper sleep cycle verified by wrist drop before installing in crib, wakes up anyway but accepts normal bedtime routine of back rub, count to 10, ABC song, and special goodnight kiss

10:36 went to bed

11:00- lie in bed listening to sprinklers coming on and neighbors out in the street

11:?? finally fell asleep

12:23 hear Turtle cry, extract stuck foot from between crib rails, start over with back rub, count to 10, ABC song, and special goodnight kiss

12:23-1:?? lie in bed listening to
resident nightingale at decibel levels illegal past 10 pm in this neighborhood
every breath and snore and move of husband next to me
random thoughts & irrational worries swirling around in my brain

1:?? finally fell asleep

2:17 hear Turtle cry, apply blanket to cold legs, locate white bear at opposite end of crib, commence back rub, etc, #3

2:20-2:27 stand over crib removing hand from back and self from room molecule by molecule soundlessly so as not to be detected, successfully sneak out after taking 7 minutes to walk 6 feet

2:27-3:?? lie in bed listening to bird, snores, thoughts until I finally fall asleep

4:22 Oh my freaking god, you have GOT to be kidding me, hear Turtle cry again, say "What?! What?!" to him as he says "mommy, mommy, mommy" over and over and mumbles nonsensical things, lift him out and carry to our bed, plop down in frustration

4:22-6:26 little warm arm over my neck, toes jabbing into my side, toss, turn, soft breath against my arm, legs kicking my boobs, "stop kicking me!", toss, turn, fall in and out of sleep, lose track of who is tossing and turning, awaken multiple times in discomfort, start thinking about how much today is going to SUCK because I got no sleep, oh yeah and Turtle got no sleep, oh yeah and Backtire got no sleep, so begin anticipating hell, curse the situation

6:26 little fingers stroking my hair, kind of pleasant and soothing, actually, no wait, stroking turns to grabbing fistfuls of hair and pulling at my scalp over and over

6:27 "Kill me now" comes out of my mouth, alerting Backtire to my plight, who has several times throughout the night tried unsuccessfully to extricate Turtle from my personal space, Backtire gets up with a heavy sigh, removes Turtle from the room and lets me get some sleep

6:28-7:01 listen to Turtle cry for Mommy, argue about diaper change, play with Daddy in his bedroom at full volume, oh yeah and ALL of the birds are awake now, and the sun is streaming through the window, finally yell that they need to "Go to the living room, please! and shut the hall door, please!"

7:02-9:15 sun, birds still at full stimulation levels, attempt to block somewhat with strategic pillow placement, sound of toddler and Daddy still present, but fainter, able to fall in and out of sleep a bit more until I just give up and get up to come write this as a way of avoiding today's hell just a little bit longer.

9:39 post this puppy and go to meet my fate


Leaving the Left Brain

Last night Backtire & I sat and watched Jill Bolte Taylor's TED talk. Wow. If you don't know about the TED conference, check it out. All of the talks I've ever watched were fascinating and thought provoking, sustaining me for days or weeks. Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroanatomist who spent her life researching the brain and then experienced a brain hemorrhage that shut down her left brain. She had the unique opportunity to observe her own brain losing function and altering her perceptions and recover from this experience to share it with us. Watch her talk first. My reaction is below.  

It seems clear to me that this woman has something in common with people who have experienced near death experiences, out of body experiences, voodoo rituals, meditative trances, and ceremonial and recreational drugs. All of these things organically alter brain functioning, changing activity patterns in various parts of the brain, and therefore altering the person's sense of "normal" consciousness. It makes sense that people who have had the opportunity to see the world and themselves through a different consciousness would consider it a life changing experience and want to spread the word to others. And isn't that what both seeking enlightenment and taking ritual drugs are all about?

I find it fascinating to think that all of the visions, hallucinations, indescribable feelings, and awarenesses that people attribute to peyote or deep meditation or almost losing your life are really just things that are being unlocked from within your own brain chemistry. All humans must universally have the capacity to feel as if they are floating above their own body or see colors in the air that aren't there if only the right parts of our brains are stimulated or shut down. In fact there is much evidence of this, which I don't have time to find and cite right now, but I've read it here and there over the years.

I'm particularly fascinated by all of this, both as a scientific person who has devoted time to studying the brain and as a person who has never been lucky enough to experience any of it. It remains unreachable to me from my left-brain imprisonment. I haven't taken the drugs and I haven't had the head injuries. I haven't had the patience for meditation, as it just feels like sitting still and doing nothing to me, or worse, listening to the endless chatter of my left brain making lists and reminding me of things, which stresses me out instead of relaxing me.

The closest I ever get to altered consciousness is in the shower, while driving sometimes, or in the
hypnogogic/hypnopompic state each morning and night. I feel kind of zone-y and stream of consciousness at those times. Random thoughts occur to me and I automatically synthesize bits and pieces of my experience and memories together and often come up with interesting ideas. It's a nice break from the chatter and it leads me to the creative spark and the satisfaction of self-reflection, but it's still pretty left-brained, I think. I cannot even imagine floating above my body or feeling enormous and expansive and one small part of the energy of the universe. I can intellectualize that concept, but I don't truly "get it".

Think about this- each person on the planet due to their individual make-up and various groups, due to their cultural influences, and in fact each brain possessing animal may indeed be experiencing the world and themselves in slightly or entirely different ways. If I live mostly in my left brain and you live mostly in your right, do we see eye to eye? Can we understand each other? Does a gorilla or squirrel experience the world in more of a right brain enormous and expansive way than I do? When I try to see things from others' point of view, is it an exercise in futility because I am making a gigantic and flawed assumption each time, which is that the other being essentially views themselves and the world and the relationship between them the same way that I do, when in reality I cannot even fathom what their personal universe is like?

I agree with Jill Bolte Taylor's essential message- that we would all benefit if we could all tap into our right brain more and understand our interconnectedness and be at peace with ourselves and each other. We don't want to induce brain injury in everyone. I'm not sure how I feel about passing out the drugs to all. So, how do we get there?


We Goed B-Me-X-ing!

We broke all kinds of barriers this evening with our family outing to the BMX park. Chips and raisins for dinner. Bike riding way past bedtime. But most notably, I finally pushed past my fear and rolled smoothly over a couple of jumps in a row, got some speed in the berms, and got that "I can do this!" feeling.

I made several laps in a row, gaining confidence and smoothness, shedding anxiety each time the wheels hopped and slid and it was no big deal. My muscles relaxed, joints loosened. I started looking ahead instead of at the ground inches in front of my front wheel. The bike bounced up and down beneath me and I instinctually leaned and shifted, bent my knees, absorbed the shocks in the terrain as if I knew what I was doing. It was fun! I had fun!

I took a break, heart pounding, out of breath. Both from exertion and adrenaline. I was tired, covered in dirt, and exhilirated. I was a 37 year old sedentary mom BMX-ing for the first time in her life. Hey, that's pretty awesome. And way more fun than sitting on the sidelines providing snacks and water. And way better for my fitness and confidence and family bonding.

I'll have you know that this did not come easily for me. I've never "had it" when it comes to kinesthetic talent. I bump repeatedly into pieces of furniture or countertops that haven't moved positions in years. I was always picked last in PE. I am going left when the step class is going right. My mind and muscles are just not wired together properly. I have been motivated over the years to undertake various physical activities- skateboarding, mountain biking, dancing, and surfing come to mind, but have always found the learning process a real struggle and often quit in frustration. And it's not for lack of willing coaches. But the combination of poor proprioperception + high expectations for myself + the need to figure things out myself with no help + frustration with anything I can't learn super fast = well, ... issues when it comes to this stuff.

And, Backtire is AMAZING at this stuff. He has never taken more than 10 minutes to essentially figure out how to snowboard, rip stick, or whatever on the first time he tries. His brain and body fundamentally work in sync. He intuits the effect that gravity, friction, air resistance, mass, angle, acceleration, and torque will have on the situation. His body responds reflexively, with no conscious analysis. He, as they say, IS the bike, surfboard, or motorcycle. Plus, adrenaline is one of the necessary daily requirements for him, a close second to oxygen. And, he doesn't mind getting hurt as much as I do. We have the ER visit receipts and at-the-ready collection of ace bandages, gauze, wrist stabilizers, and "road rash kits" to prove it.

So, being a person who compares myself to others, is quite competitive, and whose identity is rightly or wrongly wrapped up in accomplishments- well, you can see that I'm not doing my self-esteem any favors by hanging out with him and trying to do sporty stuff together. Except, maybe I am.  Because he relentlessly pursues physical activities and therefore I cannot hide from them. And he relentlessly cajoles, ahem, encourages and supports me to try them, too.  

The first couple times we went to the BMX park, I only spectated, turning down offers to give it a try. The next time I rode Backtire's bike, but only on the flat. Rode it some more at home on the asphalt to get used to it. Next time, I tried going over the smallest bumps, about 12-18" high. OK, did that and didn't die or embarrass myself (which is worse?). Did that a few more times. That was kind of fun. Tried the bigger bumps and ripped up my calf by stopping in fear as I would crest the top, putting my foot down and suffering the pedal coming around to eat my flesh. Felt embarrassed, scared, and frustrated. Went back to spectating. Figured I probably wouldn't be able to get past the fear. I'm too old. Chalked it up to one more thing that I suck at and therefore won't find fun. Imagined all the years of BMX-ing that they'll do together as I sit reading a book on the sidelines or don't even bother to go. All the fun they'll have without me.

I finally had a big talk with myself and Backtire about all of this and why I have such a hard time just "letting go" as everyone tells me to and even just "doing it only for fun", even if I suck and am struggling, which everyone tells me to do, also. I realized that I needed a strategy. I needed a lot of time and no pressure. I needed space to figure it out myself without people tossing suggestions at me. I needed to only have to focus on one tiny skill at a time because I lock up and get overwhelmed if I have to remember to do two or more new things at once with my body. (No problem in other arenas of life!) I even needed little to no cheerleading because somehow what others think they are giving to me to be supportive just feels like more pressure to me. And too much praise and attention to my progress just distracts me and then I goof up. I need to work on things in my own little bubble in my mind. And I needed strategies for not getting hurt, so that I could have more fun and less pain and be less likely to quit.

I rode the bike around my street, practicing putting my foot down on each side, way out past the pedals so that if I did reflexively put it down out of fear, at least my new muscle memory would have my calf clear of the claws. I got over my fear and rode the bike off the curb over and over. I practiced riding up and down the bumps in the sidewalks where people's driveways are with my pedals even, because if they are in the up/down position, they will scrape against the slope on a jump. I went up and down driveways and practiced getting more speed up and stopping quickly. I practiced leaning the bike way over and counterbalancing with my body. I practiced balancing the bike while going really slow.

Then at the track today, it all came together. After a long time waiting all the teenage hot shots rode off and left the track empty. I took some laps on the flat, then added the tiny bumps. I got up some speed and went for a big bump and stopped at the crest out of fear, but- ta da!- got my foot clear of the pedal when I stopped. I tried again and whoa! I did it! After a few repetitions, I even accidentally got some air. Kind of scared me when the front tire lifted up like that, but I recovered and it probably looked really cool and like I did it on purpose to everyone else. Whoo hoo for the inadvertent trick!

I did it all a bunch of times in a row and it felt great, but I made sure to quit while I was ahead because I know myself. I need to bask in my accomplishments and be motivated to come back and push myself a bit more. If I had eaten it, I would probably just end up quitting. Baby steps. Baby steps. And major props to Backtire, who gave me space and time and bit his tongue and just let me do my thing until I figured it out. He didn't even look at me or smile or compliment me until we were ready to go home. Perfect!

I'm really happy that I pushed past fear and anxiety and self-doubt and silly notions about age and out-of-shapeness and gender. The best reward, though? The high five from Turtle- "Good job, Mommy!" and the lit up smile on his face at the excitement that our whole family "goed B-Me-X-ing".

p.s. OK, if you've made it this far, I have to share this one other little thing.  After riding all that time and Backtire being good and not saying a word to me, on the way to the car he mentions casually to me- "Uh, you might want to wear a different kind of shirt next time".  I had a v-neck tee on.  Apparently, I was giving the teenage BMX-ers a show when I came around the corners leaned over on the bike.  Not to worry, Backtire assures me it was "R-rated, not X-rated".  Normally, I'd be mortified!  But I was so proud of myself for riding that I don't even care!  Mental note on the crew neck next time, though.