Monday, December 31, 2007

I'm having a really hard time fighting the (not uncommon) urge to steal the Hot Pocket that's been sitting in the communal freezer for two months.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

My unfortunate emergency dental visit yesterday (to fix my ever-chipping front tooth) exposed me to not only this song, which is so wrong on so many levels it makes me a little queasy, but to a guitar rendition of the Carol of the Bells which sounded ominous enough to show up on a thrash metal compilation. It must have been the Bad Christmas Music All The Time station, because I was also treated to the Chipmunks song with the hula hoop and Feliz Navidad.

This explains why I left without asking the dentist to grind down the back of the tooth a bit more, because the reconstruction is slightly too large. Hopefully I’ll get used to it.

Monday, December 17, 2007

My lack of team spirit was evident at last week’s office party when I confessed to not knowing the University’s mascot. (It’s a Great Dane; certainly not something I would’ve landed on if I’d tried to guess.) In the ensuing discussion of my ignorance, however, it came out that the sports teams used to be nicknamed “The Pedagogues.” While I can’t picture an appropriate mascot, that’s something I could get into cheering for.

(My schools have all been a bit weak in the mascot department. While U Washington had a dog of some kind, Alfred had a Saxon, and I don’t even know what Indiana dug up to represent a Hoosier.)

Friday, December 14, 2007

If this actually works, it's really cool. Though also a bit creepy. Anti-bot random-letter deciphering on websites is replaced by badly-scanned-literature deciphering, theoretically increasing access to electronic texts.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I wonder what Alfie Kohn would think of this.

C brought home a worksheet from school. One of the questions was, “Would you want to be friends with the main character of this book?” His response, referring to Helen Keller: “No, because she couldn’t see a thing!”

S: C yelled at me this morning for telling him I put bread in the toaster for him. It went better than usual, though, because when I pointed out that I’d done nothing wrong, he just harrumphed at me rather than contradicting me.
D (with egregious British accent): “An argument isn’t just contradiction.” We have to show him the Argument Clinic sketch.
S: He wouldn’t get it; he doesn’t understand jokes.
D: But it’s still funny. Hand me the laptop so I can pull it up and show you.
S: You’ve already told me about it, which was probably a good deal funnier than having to actually watch it.

A: Here is a cow.
S: Moo.
A: Talk to me, not the cow!

A (mumbling to herself): It’s a catastrophe!

Golden Compass

The Golden Compass movie was visually exciting and included in passing some fun creative alternate-world-technology. Really, with the Panserbjorn and daemons, there was no way it could be a complete dud in the age of computer animation. But I suspect the plot would have been utterly baffling to anyone who hadn’t already read the book, and it was incredibly shallow in comparison- even if they’d been willing to make an overtly anti-religious movie (out at Christmastime at that!) there wouldn’t have been time to get it in.

I knew from the trailer that they’d made Lyra pretty, which I wasn’t all too thrilled about, but I was glad to find that they hadn’t completely whitewashed her character. Some of the casting was hard to take (Lord Asrael was a tweedy academic; he should have been much more imposing) but Mrs. Coulter, perhaps the most complicated character to try to portray, was quite well done.

The biggest shock though- they ended the movie a couple chapters early, so it concludes on an excited/ celebratory note. Not only does this completely change the story’s tone, but it fails to impart one of the biggest themes of the entire trilogy. If they’re planning to make the sequels, they’re going to have a hard time now; they’ll have to begin the next movie with a horrific betrayal with little space for setting it up, and given the downplaying of general evil in this movie (they avoided killing any children), it’s going to be tough to pull off.

Monday, December 10, 2007


In the past week I’ve learned that:

While eggnog-from-a-carton is indeed wholly disgusting, homemade eggnog is quite good. I’m too lazy to actually trouble to make it myself, but I’ll cheerfully imbibe if served.

Beating Meadowbrook Farms cream into butter takes about three minutes. Since local butter is only occasionally available at the food co-op, this is good to know. I haven’t weighed everything, but I think it’s cheaper than regularly-priced organic (non-local) butter, and about the same as on-sale organic butter. (Much more expensive than generic butter, of course.) We now have buttermilk to use up too, which is somewhat tricky because A can’t have it

A is nearly as disgusted by soy cheese as I am. I’ve never really seen the point of the stuff, but Dan thought she should have the chance to give it a try.

Sheep cheese is much more popular than goat cheese at all-women gatherings. Small sample, though, so I don’t know if I’ll let it affect my party-buying habits. (But who am I kidding- I never spend as much money on food as the single childless friend who served it did.)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Our company holiday party is this Friday. It's conveniently located in Delmar, so as long as I'm able to act sober for A's teacher conference I'll need to step out for in the middle, I'll be able to truly enjoy the wine. Only irksome problem- we're required to participate in a $10 grab-bag thing. I opted out of the gift exchanges at PRA, but I had backup- I talked two of my coworkers into joining me, so I didn't look as bad. Who DOES like these things? While I truly enjoy exchanging gifts with my family and friends, it's because I actually put some thought into what they might like- even if I end up being completely wrong, the process still gives me pleasure, and I hope that the recipient at least appreciates the thought. But coming up with something completely generic, which will randomly go to one of twenty people, half of whom I barely know- that's not fun.

Porn would be an amusing in-joke for about half the staff (those of us who attended an adolescent pregnancy prevention meeting last month) and generally appreciated by another 25%, but I'm afraid that the last quarter might take offense or consider it sexual harassment. From past experience I know that my best bet is probably lottery tickets, but I'm morally uneasy with sending my money to that system. I'm eager to support local businesses and artists, but the foodstuffs (chocolate, jellies, etc.) I can obtain for $10 would be fairly meager, and I'm wary of inflicting my musical taste on anyone. I think I'm stuck with the safe-but-boring route- maybe a blank book?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

what we've been doing-

- met some friends to walk around Washington Park to see the light show. Nothing says the holidays like an incandescent sphinx.

-went to the Chocolate Expo at the state museum; free samples, a chocolate fountain, vendors, and the Look-Alikes exhibit. Friends were providing music there, and Dan got the chance to join in and sing. Which was great except that his outbursts of “Green Grow the Rushes-O” continued for the rest of the afternoon.

-let the kids break out the holiday decorations. So now there are ornaments hanging on all of our drawer pulls.

-watched friends’ baby a couple times. While he was extremely agreeable and low-maintenance for a 10-month-old, it reminded us why the adults in a family should never be outnumbered.

-introduced C to Dickens by telling him about Ebenezer Scrooge, because we thought it would be less annoying to hear him shouting “bah humbug!” all the time rather than “garr!” or “beep!” or “I’ll never do anything nice for you ever again for the rest of your life!” It is, in fact, but the others are still in heavy rotation.

-attended the Four Corners Tree Lighting, which was preceded by a parade of two fire trucks, a trolley, and a vintage truck from the town sewage department. I’d never seen anything like the latter in a parade before. At the church we went to afterward for cookie-eating, C said “bah humbug!” to the extremely nice pastor’s wife who asked if he wanted to make a snowman mobile.

-stopped by a local craft fair, hoping to purchase exciting locally-made gifts. Instead Dan got some horseradish cheese for himself and C got some maple candies for himself while A re-arranged all of the necklaces carefully arrayed at the jewelry booths.

-questioned the appropriateness of a class field trip to Wal-Mart. All appearances to the contrary, we really do want to have a good relationship with C's school, but we just couldn't let it go.

-bought all of the materials to make all of our storm windows, and made a working prototype. We now have a plan and a lot of money invested and no time to actually get the rest of them done. The big one for C’s room, though, which is the most important, is well on its way.

Not everyone wears long johns?

Last night I went out with a group that included a recent transplant from Texas, who’s trying to adapt to the whole winter-weather-world. After everyone discussed cold weather car maintenance issues (which frankly, we’ve never really paid attention to), I wanted to ensure she knew about the really important day-to-day stuff, and asked if she had long underwear. She did, and we hiked up our pant legs to compare her cotton to my synthetic silk, while half of the rest of the group looked on in disbelief. A long-term resident (who had been complaining about always feeling cold) said in surprise, “I never wear long underwear.” She had some for camping, but that was it.

I’d been thinking that pulling on long underwear nearly every day was just a standard part of life in the Northeast, but remembered that I didn’t really start wearing it until college, when it was necessary because of the amount of time I spent walking outside. (Unless I wore my flannel-lined jeans instead.) After getting in the habit, I just kind of figured everyone did.

Friday, November 30, 2007

his mother's son

I noticed that there was a request form on one of C's library books from school. While I have the public library set aside virtually all of our books for us, I didn't even know C could do that at school. Turns out he saw the book at the book fair but couldn't afford it. I'd like to know whether he pitched a fit and the staff found a way to appease him, or if he came up with the idea himself.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Maybe I should make C stuffed buildings for Christmas. He never played with dolls or stuffed animals, so maybe he needs a cuddly inanimate object to love.

I read some books

Mothers and Other Monsters, Maureen McHugh

I haven't been reading short stories over the past few years, but this collection made me reconsider. Sci fi/ horror/ alternate history are all represented, but for the most part as means to her ends rather than important elements in their own right. The major themes I was intrigued by were of choice and culpability, but she also focuses on genetic engineering/ medical decision-making. The author has the rare ability to write tight not-of-our-world stories without wasting words with tedious explanation, and to know when to end without giving too much away. Highly recommended.

The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion

The author discusses her mental processing of events in the year after her husband died and her daughter simultaneously became seriously ill. In some parts she does a good job of conveying the illogic of grief, and acknowledges the degree of literal insanity which I suspect is normal after a serious loss. But within the first 20 pages, she managed to alienate herself from me through casual references to the resources of the rich and famous that she drew upon in this period, and it only got worse as the book progressed. I'm not sure if she was intentionally namedropping as a way to keep herself from feeling pitied, or if she's so out of touch as to not realize that her lifestyle is nothing like most of ours, or if she just didn't care about the latter. But she inhabits a completely different world than the rest of us, and her seeming unawareness of her level of privilege made me dislike her as a person. Which of course makes an autobiographical book less powerful.

An Unconventional Family, Sandra Bem

Discusses the author's "experiment" in egalitarian childrearing. I would've been more interested in explicit discussions of the largest barriers they faced and how they overcame them. But it was more autobiographical, and instead went into (painful) detail about the woes of getting tenure. I also realized that while the author and her then-husband may have been very cutting-edge when they got married, they're not to me. I'm always pretty shocked when women don't seem to see themselves as equal partners in a marriage, even though a surprising number of my friends have seemed to think nothing of, say, moving and giving up an entire community they've built for themselves to enable their husbands to take a different job, or care for kids while their husbands work 80-hour weeks, or manage all of his relationship responsibilities (like buying anniversary gifts for his siblings). If anything, my marriage is more egalitarian than theirs was.
So an interesting skim, but not really enlightening.

The Atrocity Archives, Charles Stross

Turns out that nasty creatures from different dimensions are more reliably summoned through computer-assisted mathematical computations than via traditional methods. Turing figured this out, and governments around the world have been covering it up ever since. The protagonist works for the secret government agency assigned to prevent a demon takeover. The intrusion of bureaucracy in fighting the denizens of Cthulu is pretty funny, and I'm just geek enough to appreciate the system admin-speak which dominates the first third of the book. The writing is overly pulpish for my taste, and could use editing, but it's only occasionally intrusive. Good airplane read.

Two Girls Fat and Thin by Mary Gaitskill

I just didn't get it. There were good parts, but as a whole, I never figured out the point, and the conflicts it gave me to think about weren't too interesting to me. It might've been better for me if I were more interested in Ayn Rand, but I'm not even so sure of that.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A came down with a nasty stomach bug Thursday night, so we had to cancel our monthly potluck. This was especially sad because a lot of people we hadn't see in a while were planning to come, and our next one is at a busy enough time of year that it's unlikely most will be able to make it then. I hate to think that we'll have to hope to catch up in 2008; I've never liked having such busy schedules that seeing local friends is a rare occasion.

While no longer especially ill, A wanted nothing to do with going outside on Saturday, which was a bit of a problem because we were hosting a work circle with outdoor projects. She watched more television that morning than she had all together over the previous three years. Which we weren't particularly proud of, but it reminded us that videos were an incredibly powerful tool for Getting Things Done, and one reason our neighbors are more productive than we are is because their kids watch several hours of TV each day. Maybe if we plant the kids in front of the television for a week next spring we can get the chimney pointed after all!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Because I know everyone is fascinated with this process- at last week's elementary school redistricting meeting, all five scenarios presented had C switching from his current school to one which is significantly larger and not within walking distance. Not the end of the world, but also less than ideal- walkability is important to us, especially since we only have one car, and he has enough social issues without switching schools next year. I contacted everyone I could think of to try to change the boundary lines, but figured it was a lost cause. But at tonight's meeting, it looked like they're going to make the change I requested! Apparently tracking down the e-mail addresses of everyone involved and knowing someone on the committee made a difference. I'm so glad I put in the time to get this fixed. It's still not 100% definite, but I'm optimistic.

More miracles of makeup.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A's birthday

Birthday walk at Blossom's

Roots and Shoots

A and friend at Five Rivers

Halloween Parade at School

Here are a couple images from A's first Halloween Parade at school...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

spooky tales

Monday, October 29, 2007

Huck Finn's Warehouse and More!

The kids and I met some friends at the Corning Preserve last weekend, and on the way home C spied a sign for Huck Finn's and asked what it meant. I was perhaps a little too enthusiastic in my description- both the kids immediately begged for the Huck Finn's Experience. Conveniently, we were only blocks away, so off we went.

I've been thinking about getting A a new bed for her birthday, since she's ougrowing the toddler mattress. So after letting them rock all the cradles and sit in all the child-sized chairs and gawp at the cardboard displays intended to represent books or computer monitors*, I directed them to the bed section.

I've always been a big fan of beds with trundles and lofts with an entire bedroom's worth of furniture underneath. Turns out the kids are, too. Huck Finn's has an exciting selection of lofts with futons, and desks, and closets, and shelves, and drawers, and every possible combination thereof. The kids ran from bed to bed, climbing ladders and exploring the built-in tents and slides and cupholders, until they picked their favorites. We all decided that this style was the coolest because instead of having a ladder to the top, it has steps that pull out so they also function as drawers.

* C: Why do they have that there?
S: Because otherwise people might buy the shelves and think they're supposed to put salamanders on them.
C: (concerned) But salamanders need to live near water!
S: Exactly.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Who is the pumpkin king?

little cat A

Halloween Haunts

A's birthday is coming up-

so we're figuring out which ornaments to make for her birthday wreath this year. I'm deciding between a doll or a backpack. How tiny a purple princess can I sew....

Friday, October 26, 2007

At the playground on Tuesday, A filled all the buckets from the sandbox with wood chips and carefully lined them up on a bench. Thankfully no other kids showed up to demand seating or sand toys.

I can’t decide how to manage the kids’ use of public space. I would lean toward letting all but the most obnoxious behavior go, but the parents at Bethlehem playgrounds tend to micromanage the kids’ play. Disapproving comments have been made about rather innocuous behavior: A using trucks outside of the sandbox, C putting wood chips on the slide, both kids climbing up the slide. I understand complaints about their more annoying tricks- monopolizing one of the slides for an hour, hauling buckets of water into the sandbox. But even then I don’t know when to intervene. Yes, I understand you don’t want your kid to get muddy, and it’s hard for her to watch someone else making a moat when she’s not allowed to do so herself- but 75% of the sandbox is still available for her use. (Pouring water down the slide is something I don’t allow, because that ruins the slide’s attractiveness for everyone.) Yes, I understand that taking turns is important, but your kid can take his turn going down after my kid climbs UP the slide. (I was probably lax in letting C sit on a slide reading for an hour last weekend, but given that there were multiple identical slides and that we were at a less rigidly monitored Albany playground, I gave up trying to make him move.) A lot of my enforcement of playground etiquette depends on our exact location, whether toddlers are present, and whether overbearing parents are watching, which means I’m pretty inconsistent. C responds just as poorly to arbitrary restrictions as he does to inconsistency, though, so I’m sort of going with the do-what-you-want-as-long-as-no-one-complains-loudly rule.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

This is really strange. It switches direction each time I look at it, but I can't make it switch if I try.

cargo trike

Friday, October 19, 2007

S: Did you sing any songs today at school?
A: Yes, we sang three songs.
S: Who did you sit next to when you sang the songs?
A: Clara. I like to sit next to girls better than boys.
S: Why?
A: Because boys pester me too much.
S: And the girls don't?
A: No.
S: What do boys do to pester you?
A: They do things like make alien hands* at me.
S: Well, C does that; do the boys at school do that too?
A: No. But Paul says, "stop looking at me!"
S: So that's why you don't like to sit next to Paul.
A: Yes.
S: Do you like to sit next to Casey?
A: Well, Casey likes to say, "I'm a dragon!" and I don't like dragons.

Unfortunately, C's bus came just then so I didn't get to hear what was wrong with the rest of the boys.

*Alien hands is what C calls it when he waves his fingers in someone's face. A hates it so much it makes her cry. We hate it so much that it makes us reconsider corporal punishment. Alien hands have been banned from our home.

Zombie Prom tomorrow.
*sigh* And I can't go.

I've been getting five hours of sleep most nights now, and (sadly) it's made a pretty big difference. I don't know whether the improvement is from weather changes, decreased daylight, magnesium supplements, or just chance, but I'm hoping it continues. And is not totally derailed by Dan's absence this week- since I need to deal with the kids' nightwakings, I usually get much less sleep when he's gone.

I met a woman at a meeting on Tuesday who'd had gastric bypass surgery. I'd heard of it before but never thought much about how it worked. It sounded like while the surgery reduces the body's ability to absorb food, the main reason it's effective for weight loss is because it makes people stop eating. They get so sick if they eat more than tiny amounts of food at a time that they give up.

If someone's desperate enough to be willing to so radically change their relationship with food, I'm surprised there's not a way of doing so that's less drastic. (This woman was in the hospital for five days, and now, two years later, she's still barely able to eat.) Never having had a major weight problem, I can't speak to that experience, but it seems like there should be some other way....

The meeting was held in a large white windowless room. There is no clock. Its sole features are a projection screen and a Big Brother-ish poster of an eye that reads, "HPO WATCH: WE SUPPORT LEADERSHIP FOR HIGH PERFORMANCE." It's the only formal meeting I've ever been to where attendees were expected to pony up cash for the mediocre lunch provided. One thing PRA knew how to do well was run meetings- everyone's happier and more productive in pleasant environs with lots of good food.

(I realized afterward that I hadn't sized up my competition- in this case, I knew my precise location in the organizational hierarchy before I even went, so it wasn't necessary. I didn't need to jockey for position.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Monday, October 15, 2007

I've been to a few more redistricting meetings and asked around, and learned that the comments on "socioeconomic diversity" do indeed seem to refer to the fact that the school C currently attends has a bit more rental property within its current catchment area. It's pretty darn funny.

Excluding NYC, about 32% of elementary school students in New York qualify for the school lunch program. 55% of those in Albany's Montessori magnet school do. It's only 6% at Elsmere, 3% at Hamagrael (the "rich" school). It amazes me that people really stress out about those 19 "poor" kids (potential bad influences?) without seeing the bigger picture here.

(And it just occurred to me that I've been spending too much time going to redistricting meetings. Dan and I have an agreement that each of us can go out two evenings a week; that still leaves us at least three nights a week together. He spends most of his nights out seeing friends or playing volleyball these days. Me, I go to meetings. I need to get a life.)

It's extremely difficult to motivate myself to work when no one's pressing me for results, I know full well that the output will be meaningless, and getting it done will require deciphering old syntax files.

(Syntax example: /OUTFILE=* /BREAK=caseid /iwbefore_intake = SUM(iwbefore_intake) /iwintake_birth = SUM(iwintake_birth) /iwra_birth = SUM(iwra_birth) /ywbirth_year1= SUM(ywbirth_year1) /twyear1_year2 = SUM(twyear1_year2) /hwyear2_year3 = SUM(hwyear2_year3) /hwyear3_after = SUM(hwyear3_after) /prenatal = SUM(prenatal) /postnatal = SUM(postnatal) / hvclosed = Max(hvclosed) / racloscd = max(racloscd)/ int_char = first (int_char)/ oy_char = first(oy_char)/ ty_char = first(ty_char)/ hy_char = first(hy_char) .)

And it's a beautiful day. This is my favorite season, and I really don't think I'll be missed if I roam around Washington Park for a few hours.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

I was wrong about the garden being finished- the warm weather over the past week set the zucchini going again, and we have five more. Glad I was too lazy to pull out any plants yet.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

An article about speeding up Ph.D. completion.

What it fails to mention is what I saw in my program:

- people stayed in because they didn't have jobs yet, and didn't have anywhere else to go. You need a university affiliation to be considered by a hiring committee; you can't just go work in a quarry while you wait for the offers to roll in.
- other stayed in because they were comfortable there, and in no hurry to go out into the big bad world.
- a good amount of time needs to be spent learning academic culture and playing the game, including putting face time in at conferences and hoping to get introduced to important people.
- a lot of students get bogged down just because they're lazy- I don't know anyone in my department who regularly worked productively more than 25 hours a week (including myself). Motivation is tough, but necessary.

It also doesn't point out the fairly obvious fact that we really don't need too many people with Ph.D.s!

Monday, October 08, 2007

After A went to bed, we broke out the Indigenous Peoples Puzzle. Our Columbus Day tradition for the past three years has been to do the puzzle, which is an illustrated map of pre-Columbian North America societies, and talk about the different cultures represented and what happened to them. This year involved less discussion (C was cheerily humming while he did the puzzle, and he's been so contrary lately that when he's happy we savor the moment and avoid changing anything) but it's always sobering to see the names that now only exist as place-names if at all.

We closed up Twin Trees for the winter over the weekend. We're enjoying A's newfound ability to remain halfway reasonable in the car; so long as we feed her continuously, she can usually handle the confinement for a bit over an hour. Once she's finally full, though, things get desperate. On the ride up, no one was exactly impressed by my dramatic solo rendition of the buzzard song but it did shock them into silence for a while. C likes Mercedes Benz because he doesn't understand its irony, but we haven't come up with too many other songs both the children will allow us to sing without complaint. (Oh, in desperation I tried Thick as a Brick and they actually put up with it, but I only remember half of it, and not in order, so I couldn't keep it going for too long without a flute.)

In between raking and wood-stacking, we got to go to the harvest festival at Gore Mountain again, and attempted to dance to the Ernie Williams Band while A insisted on holding our hands and C ran around us in circles. We remain confused as to where all the people who attend the festival come from; it's certainly larger than the population of North Creek.

We missed Aunt Maureen and Uncle Gene, but were glad Aunt Meredeth spent the night and that we didn't encounter any unforeseen disasters. (Just the predictable ones.)

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

My ideal of keeping our books corralled on the number of shelves we currently own requires regular thinning. When we moved bookshelves around last year, an entire box of books somehow didn't fit on them anymore, and I finally got around to redistributing them a few weeks ago.

This is always a somewhat fraught activity in our household. I feel that the public library does an excellent job of storing books, and we only need to keep on hand those that are not generally available or those that have significant personal meaning and are reread over and over. Dan disagrees, or maybe it's more that he feels EVERY book he's read has been important in some way. At any rate, I've given up trying to pass on the worn paperback versions of modern classics ("Half the pages are falling out!" "But it's Aldous Huxley!"), less-than-amazing titles ("It's yet another writer writing about writing- yawn." "But we know the author!"), poetry ("When was the last time you referred to the Western Wind anthology from freshman year?" "I plan to frequently, once our lives are less busy."), or anything work related ("Isn't there a bit of duplication between the The Art of Tracking, The Science of Tracking, The Art and Science of Tracking, and the Science and Art of Tracking?" "No!!!")

I think our longest debate was over Jack Kerouac. On the Road had a good beat, but its whole point was pointlessness; I found the first half about as interesting as sitting around with a bunch of stoners telling stories, and the second half sad but predictable. Dan, however, must've read it at just the right time; for several weeks, he channeled Dean's manic persona. (I wonder if I still have any e-mails from back then; just as Dan temporarily picks up foreign accents with long exposure to them, he assumed a stream-of-consciousness writing style in response to Kerouac.) As one might expect, this made me dislike the book even more, and at some point when we were preparing for a move, I tried to give it away. Dan caught me, though, and now I must forever live in fear that he'll re-read it at some point and start raving feverishly about jazz and freedom.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Our garden is mostly done for the year; my two attempts to put in broccoli for the fall were foiled by the slugs, and I didn’t take the time to plant greens because none of us really LIKE them- we’ll usually eat them (though much of our spring spinach went to seed), but we don’t especially enjoy it. We still have tomatoes and peppers, which I’ll leave out for a couple weeks, and then we’ll hang up cherry tomato vines from our kitchen windows and spread the bigger green tomatoes out on trays to ripen. The past few years we’ve eaten the last of our tomatoes right around Thanksgiving. I don’t think they’ll last so long this year- the cherries ripen more quickly, and the larger tomatoes were mostly determinants this year, so they’re pretty much gone. We’ll see what the Romas do, though.

I planted the Romas for drying, but didn’t get to do a lot of that. They tended to drop before they were ripe, and then the bugs damaged them on the ground before I collected them- not sure whether we were supposed to pick them when they were green or if the plants were unhealthy or what. We still got to use a lot of them in cooking, but since they were not perfectly ripe I didn’t take the time to dry them.

So far, the local produce experiment has gone well, though Dan and I have had some disagreement about what qualifies. I didn’t think we should be buying processed potato products, like fries and chip, but I was overruled. This weekend I felt a sore throat coming on and bought orange juice to fend it off- though maybe I could have found local cranberries instead? The kids demand bananas whenever they see someone else eating one; we let them know we’d be buying them in the winter. We’ve been less able to obtain organic fruit, but we knew that would be the case. I’ve been trying to keep everyone away from apples while we have other options- the peach and blueberry seasons just ended, and we can still get pears- but I’ve pretty much given in now. (Good local apples are available until early spring, so I don’t want everyone to get sick of them now- they’re our main winter fruit.)

I should itemize what’s in our freezer; we’ve been putting in small quantities whenever we have a chance. We have a lot of black raspberries, pesto, and tomatoes in there, my lone jar of pear butter, and several quarts of blueberries. Nowhere near as much as we’d originally planned, but this pesky job wasn’t on my radar then.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I went to a conference-type meeting of about fifty people today, and during the introductions, I caught myself assessing my appearance in comparison to the rest of the attendees. And I realized that in situations like this I do it all the time. While ignoring the interminable Review of the Agenda, I think I figured out why- it helps me get a sense of what kind of power I can assert in a group that includes a number of people with more organizational or social networking power than myself. It also helps me decide how I want to present myself (which in professional situations can range from cold, driven, numbers-focused academic to young and amenable student) in order to get what my organization or I want from the meeting.

It's possible that the self-confidence I gain or lose from deciding whether or not I'm one of the pretty ones affects my perception/ wielding of my power, but (obviously) I don't think it's all in my head. I am listened to more closely and taken more seriously if I rank near the top, which is especially ironic given that I'm most likely to do so when I'm one of the youngest (and presumably less experienced) present. It's true whether I'm working with men or with women, academics or social service providers. Now that I think of it, it's also true in social settings when no one really knows each other.

I'm trying to decide whether it's more a factor of the fact that (a) I am assessed with more value if I'm deemed comparatively attractive or (b) if the interplay of the subconscious comparisons we make between each other affects each of our confidence enough to make a difference. It's not news that people rated as more attractive are more successful (they earn more money and are seen as more likeable), but I find it interesting that the population present in the room seems to matter so significantly, and that at some point I subconsciously started using it to my advantage.

Rumor has it that extremely attractive women have a hard time being taken seriously; thankfully, I don't have that problem.

(But lest you fear I have self-esteem issues, I tied for second today, based on my perception of typical American beauty standards. Perhaps I actually just have an inflated ego.)

I went to a meeting last night about redistricting the elementary schools; on the current map, we're only a block away from being assigned to a rather less desirable school, so I wanted to see if it's likely we'll be reassigned next year. Unsurprisingly, the meeting didn't begin to give me any answers to that question, but a somewhat unexpected issue was raised- someone asked if the redistricting was going to consider the socioeconomic balance between the schools in its decision-making.

One of the elementary schools located in a more rural part of town has the most economic diversity (i.e. a few not-so-rich people live out that way). Busing kids to and from that area would be illogical and, I would imagine, undesirable to anyone involved. So I'm not entirely sure what they were getting at, and it wasn't explicitly stated. Other than that rural area, Bethlehem residents for the most part range between pretty rich (I include those who'd consider themselves middle class in this category, because compared to the folks a mile down Delaware Avenue into Albany, they are) and very rich. I've heard some grumbling about the new PTA-funded playground equipment at one of the elementary schools that includes more of the very-rich, and am wondering if that's what this is about- is the person who raised the question (someone I dislike, incidentally, whose kids attend C's school) offended that his kids might only benefit from the fundraising efforts of the pretty-rich folks, rather than the very-rich?

Following the question, someone said something earnest about how we needed more economic diversity in the schools (racial diversity, of course, being completely off the table). I muttered "we live in Bethlehem!" under my breath, which got a few snickers from those around me, so I don't think I'm missing something obvious here....

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Twin Trees

Monday, September 17, 2007

Robert Jordan died. I wasn't a big fan- I read the first couple Wheel of Times and didn't feel the need to continue- but wonder how his followers are going to deal with the lack of completion of the series. Fanfic? Legal demands for his notes? Zoloft? And of course I'm always concerned about a similar fate befalling G.R.R. Martin before my pet series ends....

Friday, September 14, 2007

and less sleep-

Two hours. And today I need to work, put in hours at the co-op, pack everything for the weekend, and drive to Twin Trees. Not even catnap time in there. Maybe it's time to find better drugs....

Sunday, September 09, 2007

pear butter

We obtained large quantities of pears from my parents' tree yesterday, and while the kids are eating all the fruit they can as fast as they can, we figured we should save at least some for the winter. So I decided to make pear butter. Pulling ideas from various Internet-derived pear butter recipes, I peeled and cored the pears (a time-consuming process, because most of these pears are only about two inches across, and they're bruised and twisted and generally look like wild fruit usually does), tossed them in the crockpot for a few hours on high with some sugar and cinnamon, pureed them with the stick blender once they were soft, and then cooked them on low overnight with the lid ajar to let the steam escape. It worked beautifully, and produced delicious pear butter, but is perhaps too efficient a space-saver- I used a gallon-sized bowl of pears, and ended up with an 8-ounce jar of pear butter. When the rest of them ripen, I think I'll make pie filling instead, just so I feel like I got more out of it!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Honest slogans. (These also make me think of the backside of the "Welcome to Indian Lake" sign along Route 28- instead of the more typical "Hope you visit again soon!" or some such sentiment, it just says, "You'll be back!" Which is, of course, true, since that's the Only Road Out.)

Monday, August 27, 2007

The toaster oven stopped working on Friday, a real shame in the season of tomato sandwiches, and I haven't had a chance to fuss with it and see if I can get it going again. I considered asking my father to help, but knew how the conversation would go-
J: What's wrong with it?
S: The "on" indicator flickers on intermittently, but nothing happens.
J: Does the oven setting work, or is it just the toast setting that's a problem?
S: Well, the toast setting has been broken for a couple of years now. We just turn it to 400 and set the kitchen timer for three minutes so we don't forget about it.
J: How old is this thing?
S: Hmm, well, I think you and Mom gave it to me for Christmas freshman year, so 14-ish years?
J: Buying any parts would cost more than replacing it.
S: Yeah, I was thinking of asking for broken toaster ovens on Freecycle.
J: (incredulous stare)
S: Hmm, I guess maybe asking for a working one might make more sense.

more sleep

Per request- I tried the stay-up-'til-3 plan on Saturday night, but unfortunately it didn't enable me to sleep until 7- A needed help at 5, so that was it for me. I've tried Ambien before, and it effectively puts me to sleep when that's the problem, but it only works for two hours. (When I tried taking it after waking at 4, I felt dazed all morning; not sure if it was related to the drug or not, but I don't want to take anything when I'm the only adult in the house anyway.) Changes in diet, exercise, and evening routines seem to make no difference.

Meal plan site, that includes recipes, photos, and a shopping list for a week's worth of dinners. I've seen these before, but this is the first I've come across that is fairly whole-foods focused. Problem- they're in Australia, so seasonal foods are reversed. When they have six months worth of archives, it'll be better.

Friday, August 24, 2007

no sleep-

After seven years of child-induced sleep interruptions, I should finally be well-rested. Over the summer, A started sleeping pretty consistently between midnight and 7 a.m. (She's in bed from 9 p.m. 'til 8 a.m.-ish.) She fusses a lot at night, but puts herself back to sleep fairly quickly and quietly, so that's only a real problem when we have to share a room with her or when Dan is away and I feel the need to have the monitor on at night because of my poor hearing.

But my insomnia, which has been a significant issue ever since C was born and I spent every night unable to sleep in anticipation of him waking up every 30-45 minutes, is worse than ever. I now can not sleep more than four hours a night. Since we usually go to bed around midnight, and I was waking up around 4, I was thinking it was largely caused by the sun rising/ birds/ etc. But with Dan gone, I've been better able to get to sleep early, but that's just meant that I wake up earlier.

So I've been up since 3 a.m. and am completely exhausted. (Maybe I'd be better off staying up 'til 2 or so; then at least I'd sleep 'til 6.) I won't be able to get the kids to bed until 8:30 at the earliest; by 5 I am going to be less than pleasant for them to be around. And since I need to eliminate A's naps immediately now in anticipation of preschool, I can expect to lose even the four hours I can usually count on- that kind of change in routine historically ruins her regular sleep patterns, and if I'm woken up, it's unlikely I'll be able to fall asleep again for the rest of the night.

When Dan's home, I can usually catch a ten-minute catnap at some point, which helps a lot. But that ain't happening this week....

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The head of the Montessori school down the road just called to let us know that A has a space there for the fall! We were so far down on the waiting list that we figured we had no chance, but I made Dan call last week and it paid off. It's for the afternoon session, which isn't so good- A is still napping, plus we know several people with kids in the morning program- but given our current lack of child care, we're thrilled to have ANYTHING. Now I just need to somehow, in the next three weeks, convince A that she wants to go to school and that she is ready to give up naps.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Dan is leaving at 4 a.m. for a 10-day trip to Washington. It's necessary for work- it's the annual staff retreat, and Dan has a lot of people to meet with in the office for the week prior to the retreat. But I am sooo jealous of all the off-hours he will have to himself, re-integrating himself into the community that we left behind, staying up late with old friends, enjoying parties without any dependents to worry about. I've had one night away from A since she was born; before A, I don't think I'd ever left C for more than two nights. (I even brought the boys along when I went on long business trips.) The luxury of having over a week of not having to think about whether anyone other than myself might need to eat seems unimaginable.

Monday, August 20, 2007

new office

My workspace has been upgraded from a large-but-noisy cubicle shared with the photocopier and FAX machine to an office to be shared with one other person. This is good in that I have more privacy (my office-mate hasn't even moved in yet) and can avoid both the constant hum of the printer and the constant chattering of the admin, but bad in that I'm further from my boss (normally considered a good thing, I know, but she tries to avoid thinking about my project as much as possible, and my distance makes it harder to casually hound her). I'm glad that I started out where I was, because its central location meant that I got to know more of the staff, but my new space is much more conducive to work.

Plus, I'm on the third floor now instead of the first, which means that I am no longer subject to the first-floor toilets. In their eagerness to prevent clogs and unsanitary conditions, they automatically flush alarmingly quickly, providing little time to toss in the toilet paper. Upstairs, we're trusted with sensor-free toilets. So I can tell it's a promotion.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

This implies that everything won't be kittens and rainbows when the kids are older. What gives?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

I had to drive to Tupper Lake for a work meeting last week (the logic in making a seven-hour round trip for a 90-minute meeting escapes me, but I digress), and it gave me a chance to check out the new Wild Center there. To my surprise, it was just as nice as the promotional literature made it sound: the exhibits were beautiful, well-maintained, and incidentally educational; there were user-driven materials ranging from scat identification kits to puppets; the self-guided trails around the building had interesting information; and the building and grounds were architecturally appropriate and attractive, with significant attention to detail. Now if only it weren’t in Tupper Lake (which was an even more aggravating drive than it would normally be, since the town seems to have chosen to rip up ALL of its pavement this summer), it’d be a great place to visit again.
I picked up C from Nana and Ye-ye while I was there. I’d arranged a book on tape for us to listen to for the car ride home, but he opted instead for the Hardy Boys, making it a quiet trip for me. Will A someday become as low-maintenance in the car? Or at least reasonable?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Octavia Butler's last novel, Fledgling, was decidedly unimpressive. Years ago, I read The Parable of the Sower and its sequel, and while I didn't exactly like them- something about her writing style makes me uncomfortable, which I suspect is intentional on her part, though I can't pinpoint how she does it- they had really interesting themes which made them more than worthwhile. Fledgling provides the same discomfort (both stylistically and thematically) but without the difficult social revelations to justify it.

It's a vampire story, with a creative take on modern-day vampires and vampire mythology. The first chapter is phenomenal- describing an amnesiac's confused return to the world, and leaving us guessing as to just what kind of creature she is- but after that, things go downhill. The rest of her re-adjustment to life is not believable, and the amnesia itself is a fairly implausible device. Certain details seem designed to push readers' boundaries, but do so either without real purpose (such as the fact that the main character is a sexually active 53-year-old, but in the body of a 10-year-old girl) or ineffectively (like the decidedly nontraditional vampire household compositions, but non-monogamy just isn't all that shocking to me).

I felt like the other Butler books I read had messages they were attempting to impart, and did so effectively (and even though I somewhat disagreed with the conclusions, Sower in particular was certainly thought-provoking). Fledgling seemed to be laying the morals on thick, but in the end I never figured out what it was trying to say.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

More evidence that I'm right about the increased misery of flying. Honestly, the last few times we've flown have been miserable, and I hope to avoid it whenever possible- which means our next trip to visit friends in Florida will have to wait until A is old enough to handle a looooong car ride, and it's unlikely I'll ever make it back to Washington State again.

Monday, August 06, 2007

A few months ago, I wrote about women's choices not to negotiate salaries as a significant contributing factor to the wage gap. Turns out most of us have good reason not to:

The traditional explanation for the gender differences that Babcock found is that men are simply more aggressive than women, perhaps because of a combination of genetics and upbringing. The solution to gender disparities, this school of thought suggests, is to train women to be more assertive and to ask for more. However, a new set of experiments by Babcock and Hannah Riley Bowles, who studies the psychology of organizations at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, offers an entirely different explanation.

Their study, which was coauthored by Carnegie Mellon researcher Lei Lai, found that men and women get very different responses when they initiate negotiations. Although it may well be true that women often hurt themselves by not trying to negotiate, this study found that women's reluctance was based on an entirely reasonable and accurate view of how they were likely to be treated if they did. Both men and women were more likely to subtly penalize women who asked for more -- the perception was that women who asked for more were "less nice".
"What we found across all the studies is men were always less willing to work with a woman who had attempted to negotiate than with a woman who did not," Bowles said. "They always preferred to work with a woman who stayed mum. But it made no difference to the men whether a guy had chosen to negotiate or not."

I didn't negotiate my current job's salary- I was actually planning on making a point of doing so, just because of my interest in the topic, but the initial offer was higher than I was expecting and I grabbed it before they could change their minds.

Miracles of Photoshop

More comments here

Running to work, my brother suggests? Not going to happen. I was consistently running two miles every second day. Then it got hotter and I could no longer run at midday while A napped. I attempted to go early in the morning, but my body rebelled with dizziness and nausea, reagardless of whether or not I'd eaten. So the only option left was after 8 p.m., when it was cooler and the kids were getting to bed.

I stuck with that for a while, but after I started working, my at-home time obviously became much more limited. The thought of exercising during the ONLY time all day that I have to myself (and the only uninterrupted time I have with Dan) was decidedly unappealing. Even after I cut back to only running twice a week, it became a chore to be avoided, and I'm very good at avoiding chores. (The house has also been trashed since I started work, too- but that's another story.)

So I've decided to stop pretending that it's going to happen with any reasonable frequency, and have committed to running two miles once a week. That's manageable enough that I don't find reasons to avoid it, and it makes it easier to choose random days/ times that make sense (I went yesterday morning, for example, when we had unusually cool weather and Dan watched the kids). While this isn't going to increase my fitness level at all, I'm hoping it'll at least help maintain a reasonable aerobic capacity.

I do walk at least one and usually more like three miles a day, just through dog walks and trips around town and to and from the bus, so at least I don't feel as sedentary as I was last winter when A rebelled against leaving the house. And if I ever get my university ID card, I'll be able to use their gym facilities. They are decidedly inconvenient (I work at a different campus), but it's potentially a viable option for the winter- I might be able to add an extra couple hours to my work schedule to take the bus to and from there during lunch.

But running the five miles to work would be decidedly inefficient, given the potential time-consuming trip to the emergency room after my collapse in Washington Park.

Friday, August 03, 2007

My five-mile commute to work is frustratingly difficult to accomplish. I've minimized the need for it as much as possible by scheduling myself to work only three days a week, but it's still hard to cobble together a good plan.

I feel pretty good about driving in on Fridays- I work and shop at the nearby food co-op on the way home, so it's not really adding to the amount of driving we would do normally. (I don't LIKE the drive- due to nonexistent city planning, it takes 15-20 minutes through stop-and-go traffic to get here, but it's acceptable.) But I don't want to drive on Mondays and Wednesdays because (a) it seems like such an ecological waste; (b) I like to leave the car for Dan and the kids to use; and (c) I've already had one side-view mirror smashed from city parking, and don't want to increase the odds of more vandalism.

So I started taking the bus. It picks me up about a quarter mile from my house, and drops me off about a half mile from work. Factoring in wait and walking times, it takes me 45 minutes to an hour to get to work. I can't read on the bus because I get nauseous. And on the way home, the bus route does some funny circumnavigations so it drops me off three quarters of a mile from home, which sucks in the heat or rain. A coworker/ neighbor has been driving me in most mornings, which makes a huge difference, but I'm still stuck on the bus to get home.

Obvious solution: biking. A five-mile bike ride should be easily do-able. Problem: I'm terrified. I experimented with biking to the co-op ONCE last summer, and ended up turning around at the Albany city line. Through Delmar, it's reasonable (though inconvenient, and technically illegal) to ride on the near-empty sidewalks, and not terribly hazardous to ride on the road (despite the 40 mph speed limit and tiny shoulder). In Albany, though, it's rude to ride on the sidewalks (people actually walk on them) and I'm squeezed between parked cars and moving cars, which (a) reduces my visibility and (b) prevents me from veering off the road if necessary. I know a lot of people who bike in Albany regularly. While most of them do so without incident, at least a fifth have been hit- usually with only minor injury, but that's still really scary. (And there has been at least one well-publicized death this summer.)

So for now I'm sticking with the mooching rides/ bus combo, but I'm still looking for something better....

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Hooper Mine

Monday, July 30, 2007

catching up

C is still reading so much that I’m having trouble keeping enough books for him; we go to the library once a week, and can barely fit all the books we’re returning into the stroller. He’s going to be furious when school starts again and they cut into his reading time with inanities like lunch. We went bowling with the family for his birthday party, and while I couldn’t bring myself to make a birthday cake with SIX inches of frosting as he’d requested, the two inches of homemade chocolate frosting I put on there were perhaps the best I’d ever tasted.

I took him to see the Park Playhouse performance of Grease as one of his birthday presents, and while he had a good time (largely because he got to stay up until 11), I certainly regretted it. We only got there an hour early, so had to sit on a highly uncomfortable hill; as always, they had a pointless 45-minute intermission, dragging out the night even longer; the quality of the performance was not as high as others I’ve seen there; and not only is Grease not my favorite musical in the first place, but it was inappropriate for a seven-year-old to a degree that I’d forgotten. (I don’t think he really followed the plot too well or caught any of the obscene hand gestures, but I still wish it had been ANYTHING else.)

A went through a stretch of refusing to go to bed. While she’s still resisting it, and some nights not going to sleep until 10:00, it has improved a bit through a series of bedtime-routine modifications. She likes the babysitter we’ve hired for six hours a week, but still throws a fit when Kate comes because she doesn’t want Dan to leave. (He is awfully far away, after all, all the way upstairs working in the bedroom.) We’re happy with the sitter- she brings books and craft projects with her and is often even able to fit a Stratego game in with C while she watches A- but we’re not sure how timing will work out when she goes back to high school in the fall.

We went to Twin Trees with a group of friends for an absolutely gorgeous weekend. We’re always fascinated by our friends’ reactions to the place- never having groped around the closet in Gramps’ room looking for a dead mouse, they find it charming, and are too polite to comment on its obvious faults. They do note things that I never notice (the light-string in the kitchen which hits everyone else in the head, but I can walk right under; the eclectic game collection) yet take it in stride when C comes out of the bathroom, shouting accusingly- “You need to point the toilet handle down!! You’re wasting water!!”

Thanks to Nana and Yeye, Dan and I managed to go to a party together sans kids, which was highly exciting. It had a Biblical theme (because all of our friends are so devout) and not only was Mary Magdalene present to anoint feet upon request, but Melchior (Dan) appeared to distribute gifts (some of which were appropriate for children, some of which were not). Wanting an excuse to tell riddles, I was the Queen of Sheba. (The kids were miracles- we decorated t-shirts for them with water, wine, loaves, and fishes.)

Dan's been claiming he'll post pictures for a long time now, so hopefully he will soon!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Monday, July 02, 2007

100 words every high school graduate should know
All but 3 I'd fully understand in context, but there were a total of 12 I couldn't generate definitions of.

Friday, June 29, 2007

For their "best of" issue, the local daily newspaper asked local artists to compose and perform songs related to the area. The genres and quality vary, but regardless of listenability, I think it's such a cool idea! Link

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Do hairy legs conform to the dress code?

I haven’t completely figured out the dress code for my workplace yet. Different people dress with different levels of formality, and I haven’t yet determined if we all can wear casual clothes or if only the admins and techs can get away with it. I’m fairly confident that I can dress down, too- so the standard dress code would be what a typical Delmartian would wear around town (a couple of ticks up from my standard wardrobe). I’ve been dressing up slightly more than necessary, largely because the clothes I own are split into two categories: ratty-clothes-I-wear-all-the-time or nicer-clothes-I-used-to-wear-to-meetings-and-conferences. The first set is out, so I’m working with the limited options provided by the second until I find some work-appropriate summer clothes that I actually like.

The new mystery I’m trying to solve is whether Unshaven Female Legs can be accommodated within the dress code. At my last job, I held off on wearing shorts or short skirts until I witnessed someone else (a man, of course) bare their Unshaven Legs, but after that I had no compunctions about displaying my own leg hair. Here, though, the workplace is less casual, and while I have indeed observed Men with Unshaven Legs wearing shorts, I have not seen any women wearing shorts at all.

At the company picnic last week, I was torn between exposing myself as one of those radical man-hating feminists who ignore their personal hygiene, or maintaining the nonconfrontational persona I’d been cultivating during my first few weeks on the job. I’d decided to go with shorts, but ended up changing into jeans just because it was cold- and it was a bit of a relief. So my Unshaven Legs have yet to be exposed to my coworkers.

Why don’t I end this silly dilemma by doing something crazy like shaving my legs? The main reason is my philosophical opposition to removing body hair- I feel that the standard of beauty that shuns body hair infantilizes women, and I will not be a part of its perpetuation. It could be argued that keeping my legs covered is of no use in subverting these norms, so I might as well just shave them, but I feel that displaying shaven legs would be expressing compliance with the standard. It’s like the difference between allowing other people to assume that you are, say, a Democrat, and going out and buying a Hillary ’08 shirt to perpetuate their error.

(I did shave under my arms last year for Brianna’s wedding, because the only dress I could dig up for it was sleeveless and I didn’t want to attract more attention at the reception than the bride. I still felt disgusted with myself.)

I also don’t want to spend the time or money that body hair removal entails, and the environmental impacts of the increased use of water/ soap/ razor blades/ plastic packaging are unacceptable to me. (Dan and I are currently bickering about the environmental costs of his facial hair grooming.) I’m truly taken aback when I hear playground chat about getting waxed every month, and when I see shaven legs it feels like I’ve entered some strange alien culture. Unfortunately, it is the one I live in, and I need to decide exactly what I’m willing to give up to subvert it. Even though I realize how piddling my “sacrifice” would be, it’s never easy to give up privileges….

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

spotted little goat

today was C's last day of school, and he had a half day. A was up at nana's house, so after lunch (and a game of Stratego of course) we decided to go for a bike ride to the local market to get some mozzarella for the pizza last day of school dinner...

while getting my bike out of the shed, I noticed a doe (a deer, a female deer) behind our back fence, only about 10 yards away. I was surprised that she didn't run away, and appeared to be really curious about what I was doing.

After I remembered that we didn't like deer currently (see previous posts about how they're eating the strawberries and lots of other plants at night), I clapped my hands a couple of times loudly and told it to "git!" That universal signal of unwantedness should have gotten it to leave, but it had more important things to worry about.

Luckily I called C over to see the deer up close, and it was then that we noticed the strange sound coming from the direction of RTTR's yard. Sounded like a creaking swing to me, just Rowan on the swing probably... but it wasn't that. Cadao said it sounded more like a cat. I can't really spell it, but it kept repeating, a descending "mainnnnnnngg"over and over. Luckily C still has his little kid powers of observation, and is somewhat patient with me, because he kept pointing, "don't you see the fawn--right there!" "Where?" "right there!" "where?" "Right there!!" (In my defense, I was looking for a standing fawn, and I thought it would be in the neighbor's yard).

But it was a little spotted fawn, in the corner of our yard right by the back and side fences, behind the big oak and the lily hill and under the ferns. The fences are about 4 feet tall, and this little guy (I swear it had tiny antler nubs, and was also the size of a baby goat--a little longer and taller but not as heavy as the groundhog that lives under our shed--hence the goat reference) couln't make it over that fence without a boost in my estimation. How did it get in? probably under or next to the very rickety gate next to the shed, since as soon as we got up close--first time we've been within 2 feet of a fawn!--it bolted straight for that gate.

This is where it almost turned tragic; it head-butted the gate (I'm telling you, this was half deer, half goat animal from a fairy tale; maybe it didn't come IN our yard at all on it's own, but was birthed right there in our yard a couple days before, and the mother just left it there in hiding to go and find food...which she did in our pea patch, strawberry patch, scarlet runner beans... The lily hill is so tall we would never have noticed the fawn, I didn't even when looking right past it, and Paco is even less observant than I am).

So anyway, it head-butted the gate, which, unfortunately, fell over right on the little deer. I ran over to remove the gate from it's poor crushed little body, but luckily, it was magical goat-deer hybrid , because as soon as I lifted the gate up, it kicked it's heels and bounded right towards its mother and both of them ran off through the back to the woods on North street, no doubt. It didn't even seemed phased or stunned for a second, let alone injured... wow! thank heavens (and I definitely have to fix that gate now).

So far that means just this spring in our yard we've had a newborn fawn, adult deer (based on the browse evidence listed above), a woodchuck the size of a riding mower, a large garter snake that doesn't slither away from people but goes toward them, squirrels, chipmunks, lots of insects, slug infestation, and plenty o'songbirds including our beloved Phoebes. The other year we had a black bear right behind our fence (the wall of green grows TALL in the spring/summer in our yard!), and supposedly there was a Fisher running through that general area this winter...

Not too shabby for the edge of town.

What's happening in your backyard?

Happy Summer Solstice tomorrow!


Saturday, June 16, 2007

In which C indulges my imagination

C: That cloud is shaped like a bishop.
S: Maybe someone's playing an enormous chess game in the sky.
C: (slightly embarrassed for me) Well, that's fun to pretend, but I think the water molecules just formed into that shape.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I've been drowning slugs in beer (Dan says it wouldn't be too bad a way to go), catching and releasing about 10 more a night, and replanting zucchini. I'm covering the strawberry plants with a tarp at night, but there's really nothing I can do about the scarlet runner beans. (Neither human nor dog hair has worked in the past.)

We're still getting one strawberry per person each day, plenty of lettuce, and enough radishes for Dan (since no one else wants to eat them-- I planted them because they look so cool. The "Easter egg" variety ranges in color from pale pink to deep purple.) The carrots never sprouted, so I'll replant as soon as I can.

The peas have blossomed and are begining to produce; a couple of our still-tiny tomato plants have also blossomed.

Still no food at the local farmer's market- maybe next week?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Dan and I had an excellent time at my 10-year college reunion-- we had considered cancelling the trip because of my sadness and stress and exhaustion, but are glad we decided to go. The University plied us with food and drink all day Saturday, and after dinner we went to Alex's (the same as always, except without the smoke) where an alum's bored spouse entertained himself by serving me some kind of fancy tequila all night. I think it may have been the first time Dan and I have had more than six hours all to ourselves since A was born, and it's the first time I've been away from her for more than 12 hours.

It was so great that we thought we should start doing it LOTS, but A apparently disagrees; she gave my parents a horrible night. Even our dog was high-maintenance, so I doubt we'll have access to any overnight babysitters for a while....

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Last night, slugs ate much of what was growing in the fenced-in part of the garden, and deer ate more than half of the leaves of the strawberry and scarlet runner bean plants from outside the fence. I did manage to harvest four miniature strawberries, so at least we had a tiny drop of sweetness after Noah's funeral.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Deer in road leads to fatal crash on Mass Pike
My cousin was one of the unlucky ones. Goodbye Noah- we love you.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Since I never buy toys, I'm a little over-excited by my new mp3 player. It's so cute! And small! And it lights up! And it actually works the way it's supposed to! It's so little! And silver! And it has the same name as a character in the neverending fantasy series I like!

Dozens of strawberry blossoms-

but still no strawberries!

We have harvested chives and lettuce, but I'm really wanting berry season to begin....

Thursday, May 17, 2007

running update

I've been going 20 minutes straight for the past three runs; the first and last five minutes still suck, but the 10 in the middle aren't so bad. And Paco has shaped up, too- he slows me down a bit, but he's mostly gotten with the program. Running continuously rather than alternating running with walking probably confuses him a bit less.

And my mp3 player should be here by Monday!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The job at SUNY Albany that I interviewed for last month finally came through! It's at the Center for Human Services Research, and I will be working on the outcomes portion of the study described here. I'll start in less than two weeks at twenty hours per week with full benefits (well, when the paperwork gets through, at least). We're not quite sure yet how we're going to cobble child care together- Dan does not want to cut his current work hours for at least a year- but worst comes to worst, he can catch up in the evenings if need be. Hopefully, though, we'll find someone to trade off kids at least occasionally for the summer, and get A into a half-day preschool in the fall. (We did the working-opposite-shifts-with-negligible-childcare for quite a while with C, and it was decidedly not fun- we hope to figure out something better soon.)

I'm thrilled to have found something that will take care of our health insurance (which has been stressful to deal with ever since I left PRA), keep my resume updated even if I don't stay there forever (I was getting worried that the four-year gap in my work history would make me permanently unemployable in my field), and give me an intellectual life outside of my family (I've been resenting Dan's work hours lately, but it was clearly more my issue than his).

Monday, May 14, 2007

I finished Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and am really inspired to make more of a point to eat local foods. The book focused very much on the pleasure and joy of eating mostly-local foods, rather than the difficulties and hardships. We're starting small, and Dan isn't completely on board, but my personal goals are to:

1) Only buy locally-grown fruits and vegetables from June 1st through November 1st. Exceptions: frozen peas (major convenience food for the kids that we don't want to commit to giving up) and lemons and limes in small quantities (I want lemon juice in my tabouli and Dan wants limes in his beer).
2) Process for the winter at least one vegetable/ fruit that we've never done before. Maybe we'll can tomatoes or pickle squash.
3) Learn to extend our growing season further into the fall, through cold-weather crops and good use of our cold frame.

The one chapter of the book I found disappointing was, not surprisingly, the one focused on meat-eating. Kingsolver and her family only eat animals that are treated humanely, and even raise and butcher some of their own. While I disagree with that choice, it is one I can respect as an ethical decision, even though it's following a different set of ethics than my own. (Eating factory-farmed meat, on the other hand, I can only view as an ethical decision if someone truly believes animals have no emotional needs and feel no pain- which of course would mean they are very stupid.)

So it wasn't so much her choice to eat free-range meat that bothered me, but the justifications that she used for it. She equates animal-harvesting with plant-harvesting, ignoring the obvious difference (sentience that we can recognize). She discusses how humans evolved to eat omnivorously (but doesn't mention how humans also originally evolved doing all sorts of things we now eschew, such as commit infanticide). She asserts that non-Westerners living in harsh environments require animals for food (irrelevant to most Americans' situations). She points out that farm animals can't live in the wild (the potential extinction of turkeys whose feet cannot support their weight is one that we should applaud). She fails to discuss hunting, arguably the most ecologically friendly and least cruel method of obtaining dead animals. She even contemplates the huge cultural void we'd suffer if there were no farm-animal-based nursery rhymes. Overall it felt like she was trying a bit too hard.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

I just struggled into a pair of pants that fit me a month ago, and I must say that despite my understanding and acknowledgment of increased muscle mass, I do NOT appreciate the fact that the girth of my thighs has increased since I started running. (Doing 15-minute stretches now, at least- will try 18 tomorrow.)

Most of me thinks the Indian Lake Project (scroll to first entry) is completely fabricated, but its unsophisticated writing and lack of direction make me wonder if some of it might be real....

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Barbara Kingsolver's most recent book, which I reserved at the library before it was released, has finally arrived. It chronicles her family's experiment of eating only locally-grown foods for a full year- something we've thought a lot about since hearing about the hundred mile diet last year, but that we haven't seriously implemented given the obvious restraints of our climate and- as the book points out- our current national food policy.

Some of our friends eat almost entirely local produce, living through the winter by planning ahead, canning and freezing, and relying on easily-stored foods like winter squash, potatoes, and cabbage. We make a point of buying locally- for example, choosing flour from Champlain Valley Milling and yogurt from Hawthorne Valley Farm and (I confess) ice cream from Stewarts- when reasonable alternatives exist, and we don't eat a lot of non-local fresh produce simply because we don't want to spend the money on it out-of-season. But many staples of our diet (almonds, rice, bananas, CHOCOLATE) are just not available regionally, and others we choose to buy non-locally (frozen vegetables, cherry tomatoes in February, tofu because the kids won't eat the semi-local stuff). But we certainly can do better, especially if we prepare for the looong winter before it comes. By the time I finish the book, I hope to come up with better-developed goals we can stick with for local food consumption.

I've only read the first few pages of the book, but was just blown away by the fact that 98% of the WORLD'S seed sales are controlled by SIX companies. Not U.S. sales- WORLD sales. Wow. And whenever I hear about terminator genes, I always think of them as the ice-nine of human food production....

Friday, May 04, 2007

It looks like the abandoned rail line by our house is finally being purchased by Albany County.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

I'm running 8-minute stretches now, and don't know how much longer I can do it without music- I see an MP3 player in my future.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Happy last day of work, Dad! You're done with this (1980; he's the one with the beard)

and on to more of this!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Someone from Portugal visited our blog last week via a google search for "cornucopias tattoo."

This article, while it seems to be attempting to make the argument that maxing out retirement plans is better than paying off mortgages early, only serves to solidify my decision to focus on the mortgage. First, it hypes that "40% of homeowners would be better off!"- meaning, of course, that 60% would not. Second, it assumes that the homeowner has a mortgage large enough to make deducting interest worthwhile. For the second year now, our potential itemized deductions- including insanely high property taxes- have been less than the standard deduction. Third, our mortgage interest rate is relatively high and not reasonably refinanceable.

Finally, the outcome of the investment scenario the author presents (which is much more optimistic than ours would be) is a whopping extra $400 per year. Now, while I'm not one to pooh-pooh that amount of cash, I'm not all that impressed, either. Especially given that the typical readers of this article likely spend that at restaurants each month.

So we plan to use our tax refund to continue paying down the house, while we maintain our savings account with 6+ months worth of living expenses, and expect to worry about retirement when the kids make working for pay less difficult.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Saturday, April 21, 2007

I couldn't run until almost-dark on Thursday. I frightened more than a dozen deer, saw three bats, and heard a deafening chorus of peepers and toads. Maybe spring is finally coming?

The neverending rain early in the week flooded our basement; we still haven't quite finished drying it out yet. (In fact, there still seems to be some water coming in.) But we're almost there. More worrisome is the newly-formed pond in our back yard, which does not seem to be receding. We actually had mosquitoes arrive uninvited to our potluck last night- less than a week after we had snow!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

facts of life

A: When I was a little baby I grew inside your sweater.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Boston and Snow and Back

We just returned from a weekend trip to visit our friends Heather and Josh in Norwood, near Boston. It had been about 3 years or more since we've seen each other, we realized, as they'd never met A! Both kids enjoyed aunt Heather and uncle Josh's company a lot; as they're good sports about playing chess with C (though Josh was able to beat C; a good thing for the happiness of the entire household this weekend according to Heather, as he doesn't take losing well :), reading and playing games with A, etc. Their new, energetic puppy Indy (short for Indiana--she has a shared stray/rescued Hoosier background with Paco; though Sarah and I are tempted to call her "Docta Jones!") and cat Dakota provided additional entertainment.

We spent part of the visit outside at a park and playground, took a hike around a large pond on Saturday morning, then spent the afternoon at the Boston Children's Museum which has been expanded and improved upon since we last visited, when C was A's age. Both kids found plenty to do despite the busy crowds...their favorites were probably "raceways" (a variety of tracks, ramps, rollercoasters, etc. designed for golf bolls to roll down), the "boats afloat" waterplay area, and the various things to climb on and through. The most intriguing engineering feat in my opinion, and C's supreme favorite, was the 3+ story "new balance climb" new climbable sculpture in the large atrium that was recently added to the museum's entrance area. There were no signs prohibiting adults, so I played on it as well. Like the inflatable maze/slide combinations as fairs and festivals, the only problem here was too many kids trying to go up (or back down) at once... Check it out here.

Our friends treated us to dinner at one of their favorite local restaurants that night, a Lebanese place with excellent falafel (even C liked it). Too bad we had to get the kids home before 8, the time on Sat. nights when the restuarant's weekly belly dancing show begins (seriously).

Josh has been homebrewing and winemaking in earnest the last couple years, and his "prohibition brewery" and "pleasant rock winery" have me impressed and inspired to do more homebrewing, and try my hand at real winemaking as well. I guess he originally got the idea that one could make good tasting, inexpensive beer on your own by sampling (along with Sarah's uncle Gene) a good portion of my homebrew at our housewarming party in 2001, so it's nice to see how far he's now come in this area...and he quite generously sent us home with wine and a good amount of homebrew to "get over the hump" until my next batches are ready to consume.

Now our school and work vacation week is officially over, and it's back to Monday again. It would help if the forces of Spring finally won out those of Winter...

happy Sprinter...or is it Wing at this point?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The job interview went well- I wasn't brilliant, but I wasn't completely idiotic either, and I suspect they'll offer me something within the next month. (How strange it will be to be working again....)

I was wholly unimpressed with the sleet and snow today. And didn't run.

Off towards Boston for the weekend- let's see how A manages THIS car trip!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Sick for a week, which derailed my running progress- I finally went out again today, seven days after my last run, and started again at square one. Demoralizing.

Potential job sort-of interview, sort-of not coming up on Thursday. If it goes well, maybe we should call Blossoms to try to get A a spot for the fall after all....

Monday, April 02, 2007

Just in time for Easter!

Chocolate deities.

C rode his bike without training wheels today! He's still not confident making turns, or starting by himself, but I'm betting that will all come within a week if we have time to get out and try it every day.

I had no idea that this year would hold so many changes for him- his face and body are looking decidedly more kid-like than toddler-like; his reading ability is exploding (he's reading Magic Treehouse level books by himself now, though they are slightly above his level); he's gaining the physical confidence to do many more things (bike riding, tree climbing, general risk-taking); and of course the arrival of his permanent teeth....

Saturday, March 31, 2007

This morning I did the 2-ish miles in 21 minutes, despite making the mistake of bringing Paco with me. I'm not sure which was more annoying- the pausing to sniff (forcing me to pull him along when he ignored my call) or the stopping right in front of me and getting in my way. He did shape up for the last third of the run; I'm not sure if this was because he was tired or because he finally got with the program. He'll get one more chance on Monday.

Friday, March 30, 2007

C just lost his first tooth! He's been impatient for it to happen, and tonight he finally found a tooth on his tongue while he was brushing his teeth. Thinking it was a piece of popcorn (since we did have popcorn about two weeks ago, after all) he spit it down the drain of the sink, so we don't have it to save. But he was soooo excited. He hadn't even noticed it was loose before, and it turns out his other bottom front tooth is loose, too.

Of course I just had to go play tooth fairy all alone since Dan is off playing Twilight Imperium all night....

Thursday, March 29, 2007

A couple weeks ago, I attempted to jog a mile or so and felt ready to pass out. My initial reaction was "running sure does suck; won't be doing that again anytime soon!" But then I realized that it really bothers me to be unable to handle such a mild test of endurance, and now I've set myself the goal of being able to go two miles without feeling awful. I'm starting out slow; this week I'm alternating 90 seconds of jogging with 90 seconds of walking for a total of 21 minutes. Next week I'm going to jog 2 minutes before walking 90 seconds, and I'm hoping to be able to up it to three minutes the week after that.

I don't know the exact mileages I've been covering, but so far (in my all of two sessions) I'm going approximately two miles in about 23 minutes, which I think is a decent combined walking/running pace. I do indeed feel awful afterwards, but I'm not pushing myself to the verge of vomiting, as I did in high school.

I'm hoping to reach my goal before it gets too hot- wishful thinking?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Bestest friends

S: Guinevere is going to come over tomorrow; are you excited to see her?
A: Yes! Hurray! (pause) Guinevere is a baby.
S: Well, she doesn't talk very much, but I don't think she's a baby because she can walk and do other things.
A: Like take people's toys. And put them in her mouth.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I've never seen the need to use pseudonyms or make any attempt to hide our family's identity on the Internet, but it recently occurred to me that our kids' privacy is compromised by that. I'm not concerned about stalkers, but over the next couple of years C's friends will start actively using the Internet, and it could be embarrassing for him to have them reading this. So over the next few weeks we're going to decide whether/ how to remove or anonymize our previous posts, and we'll try to avoid using the kids' names in the future.

C's science fair project- a maglev train! Thanks to Ye-ye, C got to make a really cool project using technology he "invented" when he was three. A lot of people at the fair were enthralled by it.

C had fun checking out the other kids' projects at the fair, but it was so crowded and overwhelming that he left early with Dan and A. That left me to stay 'til the end to bring his project home. Carrying everything back on the frigid snowy sidewalks, for which I was not appropriately dressed (because y'know- we DROVE there), was a bit tricky, but the view of the moon and stars made it almost worthwhile.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Report Cards and it's almost Spring (really?)

Well, C's report card came today. As the teacher had hinted on the phone earlier, it was very positive (only 3's and 4's--1-4 scale, and S's and E's) and they only had warm fuzzy things to say about him. Not that he doesn't deserve the highest marks for his academic achievements (though I suspect he'll be getting some N's for his handwriting neatness in the not-so-distant future, like I did in elementary school).

But it is interesting that they haven't noticed that he gave up doing homework for Lent. Well, actually it's been since some point in January that he hasn't done ANY homework. Most weeks he gets a packet with four assignments for M-Th, that consist of practicing writing spelling words and "word family" words, a math worksheet or two, and some other worksheet. He originally went on strike about the spelling words (he hated writing them each three times, then sentences), and since Sarah had just read--and I skimmed and made her summarize--Alfie Kohn's masterful The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing, we couldn't really see a good reason to force him to into it, or any of the other homework when he decided to just start recycling the whole packet each week.

Especially in elementary school, the idea that kids who are doing fine in school need to routinely do homework nearly nightly seems ridiculous, especially after reading Kohn's research and arguments. I can see why an occasional special project can't be done on class time, or why students who are really struggling to learn the basic concepts might need extra guidance or tutoring at home, but not C at this point, not this year. As most of you know we already have a fairly tenuous attitude towards public school (we plan to take it year by year, and reserve the plan to pull him out for homeschooling at any point it seems like the costs are outweighing the benefits), so it will be interesting to see what happens when at some point his teachers start keeping track of who is doing homework (assuming they care more than we do). Right now the students are responsible for putting their homework in the bin to be corrected, and then it gets put back in their mailboxes upon checking, and the students empty their own mailboxes into their folders to bring home.

In other news, we enjoyed hosting our monthly potluck on Friday. While it had been warm and melty and spring was springing a couple days before, Friday looked a lot like this instead. Four families still ventured out, and we had fun helping shovel and push cars afterwards to get them back home again. The weekend ended up offering up two more potlucks, so we now have a new record of 3 evening potlucks in a row, with essentially the same crowd... Reminds me of the mealshare situation we liked so much when we lived in Seattle, and had shared meals 6 nights per week.

I'll be going to Maine for a mentoring conference this weekend for work. Too bad the accommodations are so crummy :). It does mean a lot of driving, though...

C has his school science fair tomorrow night. We should have pictures/tales to share from that soon.

Enjoy the Spring Equinox tomorrow. The birds here are doing their best to pretend that the snow doesn't exist. Maybe it won't continue to for much longer.


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

I told A about these extra-fun special paints that are specially designed for using with your hands, and she seemed receptive. So I broke out the fingerpaints (I even had the cool fingerpaint paper), squirted some paint on, and started spreading it around with my fingers. She looked at me like I was insane- touching that MESSY stuff with my HANDS? Voluntarily? I coaxed her into leaning closer, and encouraged her to just touch it, for a second, with one finger, but she would have none of it. Finally I gave up and gave her a brush and a new piece of paper, and she was much happier. A tiny bit of paint did get on her hand from the brush, though, and even though she gamely recited, "these are special paints that are designed for getting on hands, so it's okay," she couldn't get past the horror and needed to stop to wash.
I suspect she'd be more likely to engage in actual fingerpainting if C joined in, but the flail-fest that ensues whenever Everything-Is-Mine Boy does anything around other children that involves any sort of equipment/ materials makes me hesitate to pull them out when he's home. Maybe when it's warm enough to do it outside and hose everyone down afterwards....