31 May 2006

feelin' hot hot hot

We are in the midst of an unseasonable heat wave here in Rochester -- humid, 90-degree days at the end of May! This morning it hit 80 degrees by 9:30. It's ridiculous. And this intense heat has had the effect of turning us into hermits. Today we've spent the better part of the afternoon in the basement, where it's probably only 70 degrees. The past few days we have not emerged from the house until at least 5 o'clock, when things are beginning to cool off outside. We had a brief rainshower this afternoon that had a negligible effect on the temperature and humidity. But it's supposed to cool down tomorrow and the rest of the week, so cross your fingers for us.

Weather.com indicates that it's hot all over the place, so I hope you're all keeping cool. I'm reminded of last summer, when we brought Evan home from the hospital in the middle of a heat wave like this -- that was how he earned the nickname "tomato-head". We're considering resurrecting the nickname, since circumstances are starting to repeat themselves, right down to his constantly sweaty, pink little face. Poor baby -- he and I both don't handle the heat well; we both get cranky.

And what am I focusing on during this crazy heat wave? Food, and more specifically, how to avoid cooking. We had a barbecque with friends on Sunday, so we've been eating leftover hamburgers, hot dogs and potato salad all week. Tonight I'm making a no-cook, cold taco dip. Watermelon has become both boys' new favorite food. Pasta salad is on the agenda, but I'm starting to run out of good hot-weather meals. Help me out, dear readers: what do you eat when it's too frickin' hot to cook?


27 May 2006

busy saturday

Today was a busy day for the Mergenthaler-Schmidts. For the first time in many months, I took the boys grocery shopping with me -- this is always an ordeal, so I prefer to leave them home, but today a muffin bought me good behavior for most of the trip. This was followed by taking James to a birthday party -- another day, I will write a post on how much I hate children's birthday parties. But then, then came the real fun.

First, the minor excitement: Greg bought some fishing gear and a fishing license so that he can teach James to fish, and hopefully catch us some tasty dinners this summer. We live about a mile from the Erie Canal, and there are plenty of lakes nearby, so there will be a lot of opportunities. Incidentally, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the fishing license also entitles Greg and James to spear or club frogs -- we even saw some frog spears at the store today -- but I have made it clear to Greg that I will not cook a frog, ever, particularly if it has been clubbed.

But we saved the best part of the day for last. Finally, after so many months of watching other kids race around on their bikes, and surreptitiously sneaking rides on those other kids' bikes, James has a two-wheeler, with training wheels, all of his own, complete with a license plate bearing his name. Now, sadly, his period of bikelessness would not have been necessary were it not for some neighbor of ours, presumably. James did have a two-wheeler, with training wheels, that he was learning to ride last summer, until it up and disappeared one day. Unfortunately, one of the worst aspects of our mostly wonderful community is the way people regard any item left outside as fair game. Kids are constantly "borrowing" toys from other kids' yards; even grown-ups do this, but instead of toys, they're borrowing things like our backyard picnic table without asking (that's a story for another day as well). So James' bike was "borrowed", and never seen again. James swears he saw it in the dumpster, though I'm not entirely prepared to believe that someone threw his bike away.

But James chose his own bike, which was thankfully quite affordable, and Daddy put it together and away James rode. He is one happy boy, and I've got the photo to prove it:


25 May 2006

on gender preferences

When I got pregnant with James, Greg and I did not find out his gender ahead of time. We weren't able to, for one thing, due to the timing of my ultrasounds, but then, we didn't really care, either -- having a baby in the first place was enough for us, never mind getting worked up about the kid's gender besides. When I got pregnant with Evan, we opted to find out his gender ahead of time, partly for practical reasons (ie, how much of James' baby stuff can we re-use?) and partly to help James prepare -- to get him used to the idea of not just a baby on the way, but a brother.

But I've noticed over the years, living in a neighborhood full of plenty of pregnant women and new babies at any given time, that some people find out their baby's gender ahead of time for other reasons -- namely, to find out whether they're getting the gender they want. I've had people admit all sorts of disturbing things to me -- the woman who told me matter-of-fact that they needed to find out all of their children's genders ahead of time so her husband could get over his disappointment, before the babies were born, if they should turn out to be girls; the woman who told me that her husband lost interest in her pregnancy once he found out their child was a boy, and agreed to his choice of baby name mostly because he was finally showing a little interest in the baby; two women who regularly claim they had each other's babies, because one wanted a boy and got a girl, and the other wanted a girl and got a boy.

I've no doubt that all of these parents love the children they have, but it bothers me to hear people saying they really wanted a particular gender. Why get so worked up about something you have no control over? Why pin your hopes on something that has a fifty percent chance of disappointment? If it's so important to have a particular gender, why leave it to chance? Why not adopt and eliminate any chance of error? And if gender is not important enough to adopt so that you'll get the right one, then why make a big deal out of it at all? Really, it comes down to being disappointed about a physical characteristic -- it makes about as much sense as being disappointed that your child is brown-haired instead of blonde, or hazel-eyed instead of blue. Gender is a little different, because people attribute so much of a child's personality to gender, but knowing all the kids I've known, I'm dubious that gender accounts for much more of a child's personality than hair or eye color.

I know that the children of parents like this are loved, but I still feel a little bit sorry for them. How must the daughters of Father #1 above have felt when they saw their daddy's obvious joy upon learning that his third child would be the son he'd been praying and waiting for? (Really, this man told Greg he was excited to have a son because now he could finally do boy things with one of his kids; though his second daughter was as much of a tomboy as a two-year-old can be, it wasn't good enogh for him. Though I don't know what kind of "boy things" there are that you can only do with sons -- write your name in the snow? That's about the only thing I can think of.) Kids are perceptive -- his four-year-old daughter is certainly capable of understanding that Daddy sees boys and girls differently, and may treat them differently because of that. Being devalued for something you can't even control about yourself -- well, it's a form of sexism, but I don't think many people see it that way. I'm sure these are the kind of people who, if they had the choice, wouild have chosen their baby's gender ahead of time. I am not one of those people.

I guess in a way I feel lucky that I've never experienced a deep desire for a particular gender, but I think I must be kind of rare in that regard. I was asked regularly during both pregnancies whether I wanted a boy or a girl; people asked if I was disappointed when we learned we'd be having a second boy. Gender is not something that's easy to ignore, even when the child hasn't been born yet. In a way I do think it would have been nice to have a girl, but now that I have boys, that's mostly in a curious sociological kind of way -- wondering how a girl would turn out raised by me and Greg. As it is, our two boys are very different, and it makes me wonder how a girl would compare. It would have been kind of fun to have my own little science experiment -- how much of my chid's personality and disposition is due to gender, and how much is due to our parenting? Nature vs nurture, inborn characteristics vs environmental factors. I realize I may be a little weird in that regard though.


24 May 2006

today, the photos

Hee. Cute.

This morning Evan fell and hit his head -- I didn't see it, since I was getting dressed at the time, but my guess is that he was trying to climb up onto James' bed, slipped, and hit his head on a corner, because the baby had a literal dent in his forehead. I can't wait to see the bruising and goose-egg when he wakes up from his nap. Perhaps I'll have some nice photos to share as well.


23 May 2006

news and photos

I swear, eventually I'll get back into blogging lately. For now, interesting items of late:

  • Evan's comprehension is really taking off. He's learning new words all the time. Cuteness: we have a stuffed cow toy that moos, and now when we ask Evan where the cow is, he shouts "DOOOOOO!", which is his version of mooing.
  • Bad parenting = happy kid: We went to the Lilac Festival on Friday night, where for dinner, we let James eat a corndog and fried dough. For shame.
  • Via Dawn, I found this amazing website. Pandora lets you input a band or song you like and plays music in a similar style that you may also like. I am hooked.
  • I've been exercising recently in preparation for my return to the frisbee fields this summer. I'm tiiiiiired.

And, I don't know what's up with blogger but it's not letting me upload the adorable pictures of my kids that I was going to post. Sorry -- hopefully I'll be motivated to try again tomorrow.


12 May 2006

friday photos

I've been slacking with the blog, I know. We've been boring lately -- no trauma or adventures or anything. But we have been spending a lot of time outdoors in the beautiful weather, so I thought I'd post some cute photos of the munchkins.

Evan at the playground

James at the playground

Little superheroes

Evan among the tulips

James among the lilacs


05 May 2006

i'm famous!

The D&C printed my letter. Woohoo!


03 May 2006

good news and a cute baby

We got the job! Hooray! I kind of knew we would, but it's nice to be right. And I'm actually feeling pretty positive about the job. I hope I like it. If nothing else, I'll like saving $300+ a month on the rent.

In other news, I have an exceptionally cute baby. I haven't posted any new photos in a while, so here is one of my favorites, ever, of Evan. He's just discovered a taste for frozen blueberries (a favorite snack at our house) and is clearly in love:

By the way, April pictures are now on the Yahoo site, if you're interested.


02 May 2006

you may soon know me as a published writer

Sort of. I just wrote a Letter to the Editor of my local paper, the Democrat and Chronicle. I'll let you know if it's published, though I only read it online, so if it's in the print edition I'll miss it.

My letter was kind of a response to this little gem:

'Nuestro Himno' is a terrible idea

Count me among those who are infuriated at the thought of "The Star-Spangled Banner" sung in a language other than English. The next thing these people will want to have is a separate Bill of Rights, Constitution and flag. The suggestion from the record label Urban Box Office urging Hispanic stations to play this at the same time to show solidarity is a farce.

If this succeeds, then next will be all of the above in French, German or the language of any other group not satisfied with what they have been given by this country. Then throw in a few lines in English condemning U.S. immigration laws.

What UBO should do is to start a fundraiser so that they can buy property in another country, move there and establish their own anthem, constitution and flag. Then open its borders to all without any restrictions.

Huh? So, because Hispanics are singing an American song in Spanish, they no longer want to follow our laws? The anthem is a song. Translating a song into a different language is not analagous to re-writing the Constitution. I see it as a way to further an expression of patriotism, because, you see, many of the Spanish speakers in America are citizens, and most of them have chosen to live in America because they think it's a great country. And if other immigrants follow suit? Good for them! We can welcome culture and languages without handing our country over to foreign dictators. I expect that any group of immigrants demanding a new Constitution or American flag would be laughed right out the door. Does this man have the slightest idea how our government works? That's hardly a legitimate concern.

What is the big deal about the national anthem being translated into Spanish? Hispanics are not trying to take over the country. They are singing a song that proclaims the greatness of the nation they live in, and they are singing it in their native language. I think it's scary for some people that "Nuestro Himno" is being released in the midst of the debate about immigration. But I can't understand why either of those is a bad thing. Immigrants are vital to our nation -- they founded our nation! And they shouldn't be required to leave their native language and customs at the door.

But I'm a big proponent of multiculturalism, and multilingualism. I may be biased, living in such a diverse neighborhood, full of educated, multilingual people, but I think these things are really important. You've heard this joke, right? What do you call a person who speaks three languages? Trilingual. What do you call a person who speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call a person who speaks one language? American. I know English is the dominant language here; I know it's one of the dominant languages on the planet. But I can't see anything but benefits when it comes to everyone learning other languages. What's so bad about understanding? About communication?

Well, the D&C has word-count limits, so I couldn't say everything I wanted to say as eloquently as I might have said it had I been given unlimited space, but I think I did pretty well getting my point across. Here's my letter:

The controversy over “Nuestro Himno” is silly. What are its opponents afraid of?Dozens of countries around the world have two or more official languages – America has no official language! Surely the national anthems of those countries are sung in multiple languages without inciting revolution or anarchy.

About 30 million Americans speak Spanish – and most of them also speak English to a proficient degree. Insisting on the superiority of the English language, and refusing to accommodate those who speak other languages as well makes Americans look ignorant and rigidly nationalistic while denying the cultural diversity inherent in this country’s history. Multiculturalism enhances our shared American culture, builds bridges between neighbors, and strengthens communities. If Spanish-speakers want to celebrate our country in their native language, more power to them! In fact,
let’s translate the national anthem into French, Polish, Chinese, Hindi, Afrikaans… Let’s sing the praises of our nation in every language we know! “The Star-Spangled Banner” honors America no matter what language it’s sung in.



on bird watching and conservation

I've never really been a fan of birds. Never found them very interesting, and in fact, I've always thought they were a little creepy. Those beady black eyes... My distaste for birds only grew when I dated a boy in high school whose family owned a cockatiel (I think it was a cockatiel; big white bird anyway) that alternately screeched and mumbled demonically, and two bitey African greys (though they were very good at mimicry, which was pretty neat). The eyes, the talons, the skittishness, all contributed to my opinion that birds were best avoided.

But I've come to realize, over the last few years, that birds are actually pretty cool. Even amazing. I mean, dude, there's a bird that can moonwalk! How many other animals can claim that? And March of the Penguins showed the world just how awesome penguins are. But what really interests me is watching the birds in my own neighborhood. The diversity just in this small area is kind of astounding to me. Birds I've seen in our backyard include robins, crows, sparrows, chickadees, cardinals, starlings, woodpeckers, blue jays, and morning doves, off the top of my head. There is a pair of geese who have taken up residence in the neighborhood (this morning one of them stood on the roof of one of the buildings and honked incessantly for at least ten minutes, while the other stood below on the ground, beating his wings and strutting around). There are also hawks in the area, though not in our immediate neighborhood, and there's the occasional seagull flying through. That's a dozen that we've seen, right here in one little corner of the world. I still wouldn't want to own one -- I don't like the way they look at me -- but to watch them in the wild is pretty interesting.

Thinking about the diversity of birds makes me think about the diversity of life in general on this planet. I like reading books about animals and extinction (two of the best I've read are Monster of God by David Quammen and The Ghost with Trembling Wings by Scott Weidensaul). I think the diversity of life on this planet is unspeakably amazing, and to learn about how different animals have evolved and learned to survive is fascinating. That's why I was so sad to read this article about a report from a Swiss-based conservation group that predicts the extinction of more than 16,000 species of plants and animals, thanks in large part to humans' destruction of natural habitats. It's a hard situation, though; I recently read Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey, and that book really impressed on me the difficulties of conservation work when it comes into conflict with local people. It's easy to be a conservationist from the vantage point of a middle-class suburban American, but it's a different story in developing nations where people are struggling just to survive from day to day. If the only way to feed your family is to cut down trees and sell the wood, or to kill animals and sell their parts, what will your priority be? Who's going to starve their family to allow an animal to survive? When it's a choice between conservation and personal survival, I don't blame people for choosing their own lives.

But it is tremendously sad for me to think about the world my children are inheriting. The Yahoo article says that the most widely accepted estimate of the number of species on the planet is 15 million -- how many will be left when my sons are adults? The article says there are 65 species that exist only in captivity -- how much higher will that number be when my children are grown? I don't know whether there's even a way for humans and nature to coexist peacefully, to maintain a balance. Our track record so far shows that it's pretty near impossible on our part to live and let live. As our population increases at alarming rates, it will probably only get worse.

Sorry to get all depressing there. Consider this my late Earth Day post. Consider donating money to a conservation organization, or even visiting your local zoo, since zoos are often involved with conservation work too. We've got a totally amazing, wonderfully diverse planet, but it's disappearing. We've got to at least try, right?