28 September 2006

quote of the day

James: "I want to be a monkey when I grow up!"


27 September 2006

happy banned books week!

As usual, I'm a little late to the party, but we are in the middle of the American Library Association's Banned Books Week, "Celebrating the Freedom to Read". When I was a junior in high school I wrote a research paper on censorship, and even then, as a pretty conservative Christian teen, I came down strongly on the side of free speech. Even then I was appalled at some of the reasons people tried to ban books and stories. I think my favorites were the fairy tales: "Robin Hood" promoted socialism; "Jack and the Beanstalk" taught the defiance of authority (or some such nonsense). It's really interesting (and sad) to me that some ideas are so frightening and dangerous to some people that they want them to be suppressed and/or destroyed.

It's the 25th year the ALA has celebrated Banned Books Week, so in honor of their anniversary, I'll list 25 books that have I have read that have been banned, and which I whole-heartedly recommend.

1. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
2. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
3. Harry Potter (series) by JK Rowling
4. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
5. My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
6. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
7. The Giver by Lois Lowry
8. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
9. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
10. In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
11. The Witches by Roald Dahl
12. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
13. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
14. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
15. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
16. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
17. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
18. Ordinary People by Judith Guest
19. Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
20. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
21. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
22. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
23. Cujo by Stephen King
24. Carrie by Stephen King
25. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

Okay, so I can't whole-heartedly recommend the last three, but not because they're tremendously offensive and I want them banned. I don't like Stephen King books now, mostly because I'm not into that whole genre anymore, but I do consider his books an important stepping-stone in my literary development over the years. I wouldn't recommend American Psycho because it disturbed me more than anything I've ever read -- it's incredibly violent and graphic -- but that doesn't mean that no one should be allowed to read it. As far as I know, most people who read books like American Psycho do not go out and imitate the violence they've read about, but rather understand that books like those are portraits of sick, highly disturbed individuals.

I'm planning to have a pretty liberal stance on books in our home. In fact, James has already read a couple of the books on the list -- In the Night Kitchen (ooh! A little boy's naked bottom!), and James and the Giant Peach (I think this must have been banned for some language reasons, though I don't know for sure -- but I do remember a few mild curses such as "damn" and "hell"). Many of the books on that list are books that I will insist he read, some because they're wonderful, imporatant pieces of literature (To Kill a Mockingbird, The Handmaid's Tale), some because I loved them so much growing up (Julie of the Wolves, My Brother Sam is Dead, A Wrinkle in Time). I think there's very little I would discourage my children from reading, because even the worst, trashiest books I've ever read (ahem... Flowers in the Attic, anyone?) have taught me something, even if only how to distinguish good literature from bad. I've read a lot of garbage in my time, but who would I be if I'd never read RL Stine books, or Scary Stories to Read in the Dark?

So how about you? Do you have any banned books to recommend?


26 September 2006

safer, but more annoyed

This week, management has been installing a new fire alarm system in our building. I appreciate that now I am less likely to die in a fire in my home, or from carbon monoxide poisoning, but let me tell you how much fun the installation process has been!

We got a note last week that the installation would begin on Tuesday, and that we had to clean out the hall closets both upstairs and downstairs, as well as clear the areas around the main floor and basement stairways. Okay, so on Sunday, we got the upstairs hall closet cleaned out (the contents are currently residing in our bedroom) and some of the basement cleared. Figured we'd do the rest on Monday.

Monday morning, 8:30am: knock on the door. The work crew is here, a day early, and I'm answering the door in my pajamas with practically nothing ready for them. I need to take James to school by 9am, so I scurry to get dressed and clean out the downstairs hall closet (by throwing everything into the living room) as fast as I can so they can begin. The head of the work crew is very nice, polite, considerate, and assures me that they can make do with the messy main floor stairs, and that they'll move anything that needs moving in the basement. He also tells me that the first four hours of the day will involve lots of drilling and noisy stuff, so I decide not to be home for that.

So Evan and I drop James off at school and head to Starbucks to bide our time until the children's museum opens. We spend a mostly happy morning running around the museum, then pick James up and head home for lunch and a nap. Luckily, the weather is nice enough to eat lunch outdoors, because our dining room table and chairs have been haphazardly shoved out of the dining room and there is some light plaster dust on the table. Okay, we'll have lunch outside with the bees. We spend much of the rest of the day outdoors because there are lots of workers coming in and out of the house all day long. They leave around 4:30pm, and we are able to move things back into the downstairs closet.

This morning, they knock on the door at 8:20am and again catch me in my pajamas. Today, there is a lot of banging coming from both the basement and the attic. Again, we head out to the children's museum. Three and a half hours later we return for naptime to find that they are (finally!) almost done working in our place. I think they're finally done by now, which would be wonderful if one of the workers hadn't entered my apartment a little while ago with another notice -- this one saying that they will be testing the new fire system for the next two days. So just when I thought it was over, I learn that for two more days there will be "VERY loud" and frequent tests of the alarm system -- the notice warns that children should be kept "at a distance if possible." Great. I don't think I can take another day at the children's museum.

I have no complaints about the workers -- they've all been very nice, and I can tell from the way they interact with my kids that several of them are the fathers of small children themselves. And sure, I'm glad we have a brand-spankin'-new alarm system. But, being the homebody & hermit that I am, I'm not psyched about four consecutive days of being in my own home as little as possible.


23 September 2006

weekend photos

We braved the intermittent rain today to go apple picking. The apple farm we went to must exist in some alternate plane of reality, because it was hot and sunny the entire time we were there. We came home with twenty pounds of apples, and a few cute photos:

Evan was kind of cranky the whole time, but James really enjoyed himself. And the photos demonstrate that he is clearly his father's son.

Now to figure out what we're going to do with twenty pounds of apples...


22 September 2006

a preschooler's predicaments

So James has just had his first full week back at nursery school -- he's going 3 mornings a week this year, which is a very nice thing for both of us. But we are having a little trouble adjusting to being back at school -- sometimes it's just so hard to be four years old.

First is a sort of anger management problem that we've been dealing with since summer. James is very sensitive and emotional, has a hard time controlling himself when he gets upset, and has taken to very deliberately hitting other children during disagreements. On Wednesday a girl stole a block from him, so he snatched it and hit her with it. Today he and another girl disagreed about the source of the bells they were hearing from outside, so he hit her. This is really frustrating, because he knows that hitting is wrong, of course, but he is making the choice to hit. I've seen him act out in the heat of anger, and these incidents are not thoughtless reflexes. So we are working hard to reinforce appropriate standards of behavior.

Today we were driving home from school and I had him tell me his side of the story and we talked about what he could have done other than hitting. Then I gave him kind of a little lecture about the hitting, about how to resolve disputes, to remember to stay calm and use words, to remember that it's okay to disagree. After I was finished talking, there was a brief silence. Then James asked, very seriously, "What happens if you flush beer down the toilet?!" So it seems we also have to focus on the listening and concentration skills.

The other issue is a little more exciting: James is involved in a love triangle. There's a new boy in class, Bernie, who James has really hit it off with. Well, on Monday, James' teacher told me that James was talking all day about marrying Caitlin, a little redheaded whirlwind of a girl. I assisted in the classroom on Wednesday and several times James put his arm around Caitlin, kissed her on the cheek, told her he loved her. (She seemed kind of indifferent to him, but whatever. I like to see him expressing positive emotions, even if they're not returned with equal enthusiasm.) He sat next to Caitlin at circle time, but it was snack time when the trouble began. Because Bernie sat next to Caitlin, leaving no room for James, who was pretty upset about being separated from the girl he loves. Everyone eventually shifted and made room for James to sit on the other side of Caitlin, but then I noticed Bernie putting his arm around her. James' best friend making the moves on his favorite girl? Tragedy!

Of course, today, I heard not a word about Bernie or Caitlin, so maybe the whole thing is over. You know how preschoolers are.

So week 1 was not ideal, but we're hoping as we settle into the routine things will just get better. We'll see.


20 September 2006

looking for answers instead of placing blame

So I was driving James to school this morning, and in front of the hospital, some guy steps off the sidewalk right in front of my car. The combination of that idiocy, plus the fact that he was carrying a bunch of anti-abortion posters, made me briefly consider not hitting the brakes, but I did have a child in the car with me and a hit-and-run would have been a little difficult to explain.

One of the signs he was carrying featured the word GENOCIDE (in huge letters just like that). That whole anti-abortion approach just makes me so angry. So minorities have a number of abortions disproportionate to their percentage of the population -- the right-wingers take this to mean that Planned Parenthood and the like are encouraging minorities to abort in some kind of genocidal eugenics attempt. Because the left has always been associated with white supremacy, right? They like to bolster that argument with selected quotes about eugenics from Margaret Sanger, even though she has been dead for forty years and therefore no longer really represents the pro-choice movement.

If you're worried about the disproportionate amount of abortions women of color are having, wouldn't it make more sense to find a constructive way to solve that problem, rather than waving your inflammatory posters outside the local hospital? Instead of fabricating a left-wing genocidal conspiracy theory, couldn't you consider other, more realistic reasons why minorities have so many abortions? It couldn't be because race and class are so intertwined, and minorities are more likely to be poor, therefore less likely to be able to care for an unplanned child, could it? It couldn't be that there's still a racial hierarchy in this country, that, though less obvious than outright slavery, still puts people of color at a disadvantage, could it?

But the people spouting the genocide argument are the same people who believe that pro-choice equals pro-abortion, who believe that Planned Parenthood is in it for the money (never mind that sliding scale business), who believe that they are more qualified to make judgments about a woman's situation and circumstances than that woman is. It's not an entirely rational wing of the anti-choice movement, so I guess it's silly of me to expect people like that to really think about the issues behind their posters.


17 September 2006

books, glorious books

If you've read the post below, you'll recall that yesterday did not get off to a wonderful start. I was in kind of a bad mood for most of the morning, so by the time afternoon rolled around, I decided I needed something to cheer me up -- and that something must not involve my children, the source of my (temporary) misery. So I went shopping.

Most women -- stereotypically -- get psyched about shoe shopping, or clothes shopping, or make-up or whatever. Me, I get excited by thrift stores, cooking stuff (I have a list a mile long of items I need to improve my kitchen), and food shopping (seriously, I love grocery shopping, especially when my kids are not with me), but most of all by books. And among bookstores, my favorite ever is a narrow, creaky, crowded little book-lover's paradise, crammed to the ceiling with used books, tucked away in the back of a building on a main street downtown.

Now, really, even going to a bookstore and browsing without buying is enough to lift my mood. I really didn't intend to buy anything! But I came home the happy owner of 6 gently-used books. It was so hard to choose; I could easily have bought twice as much as I did. I left behind books by Toni Morrison, Amy Tan, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, The Time-Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffeneger, Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry, books by Vonnegut and Bill Bryson.

So what did I buy? In no particular order:

  • A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
  • Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
  • The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

A lack of disposable income causes me to be a conservative book shopper -- I tend to buy only books I've read before and loved, or I buy classics that I think I should probably have read by now, but I somehow missed in all of my high school and college English classes. So it's nice when I find used books in good condition and pay a fraction of the price I'd pay if buying them new. (In this case, $75 worth of books are mine for just $30.)

And this morning I played two ultimate frisbee games, so I'm not up for much other than sitting around and reading and relaxing tonight. Perfect. Today, I am happy.


16 September 2006

anybody want a baby?

So, Evan has decided not to sleep anymore. At night, anyway. His naps during the day are better than ever, but at night he's waking up more frequently than he's done in months. Greg and I are both getting up at least twice a night, and usually, around 5 or 6am, Evan ends up in our bed with us because we're too tired by that point to spend the time properly getting him back to sleep. But Evan doesn't sleep well in our bed either; he tosses and turns and climbs on us. The advantage is that at least we can stay horizontal; the downside is that Evan is free to leave our bed whenever he's ready to be up, which is usually in the 6:30-7am range, and he usually ends up waking James before James would normally wake up on his own.

As a result of this happening all week, I've slipped into Bad Mama mode. When Evan crawls out of bed, I don't follow. I'm so happy to have a few moments without him needing something that almost every morning this week, I've slept while my boys were up and awake. This has mostly been fine -- they get up, play together, watch some TV, and eventually wake me with calls for breakfast. But this morning, Evan, who has recently learned to climb up on the dining room chairs to reach the table, found the container of granola that I had carelessly left on the table. So of course, Evan opens the container and dumps the entire thing, on the table, the chairs, the floor, and, of course, himself. And into the butter, which I also left on the table last night. So I get up this morning, groggy, bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived after a night of frequent risings, and have to immediately clean the dining room while the kids are bleating for breakfast. Needless to say, I'm not a happy camper this morning.

So, if you've recently found yourself wanting a cute, cuddly baby, to play with, to hug and kiss, and to delight you with his ... rambunctious ... antics, drop me a note. I've got an offer for you.


15 September 2006

friday photos

I don't know why James doesn't open his eyes for photos anymore. He also does the weird huge grin you see above. Regardless of how he looks, though, he's really, really happy in this photo, because this was taken on his first day of nursery school, which was Wednesday.

This is how James pretends to be R2D2. He has expressed interest in being a robot for Halloween, so I think we're all set now.*

This is one of the crazier things I've ever seen happen in my kitchen: a fight between a spider and a half-dead bee. That's the spider on the bee's rear end (click on the photo for a bigger version), trying to spin him up and secure his meals for the next year or so. The bee was really weak, and feebly crawling around, but finally he broke free of the spider's sticky grasp and hobbled off to safety. (I think I inadvertantly assisted him by taking this photo, because I had to move a bottle of lotion to take it, and I think the web was attached to the lotion.) At that point the bee promptly fell off the windowsill into my sink full of soapy water and drowned. Poor little guy.

I feel a little embarrassed sharing the state of my kitchen like this -- it's just a few cobwebs in the corners of the window! Really! We're not that gross! -- but this was just too cool not to share. I'm disappointed that the spider didn't get him, because she was tough! And she was working really hard. But it was still cool to watch.

*No, I'm not actually going to dress my kid up in a laundry basket and call it a Halloween costume.


11 September 2006

five years ago today

Where were you when you heard the news?

I was riding the bus to work when I heard the bus driver telling another passenger that an airplane had hit one of the twin towers. I dismissed it as some kind of crazy accident, and didn't think about it much. It was unusual for a driver to have the radio on, but I didn't think much about that either. I was almost six months pregnant with an unplanned baby, trying to cope with that as well as going to school and working part-time, so if I was a little preoccupied and self-centered, I did have my reasons.

When I got to work -- I was working at the Educational Technology Center on campus that semester -- all of the TVs in the ETC and the adjoining Multimedia Center were tuned to the news. Everyone was sitting around, just watching. During my bus ride the second tower had been hit. I was restless and didn't understand the scope of things at that point; I felt like I should be working, and asked my boss what I could do, but she said no one needed to work today.

Classes were cancelled for the rest of the day, and I don't really remember what I did after I left work. At that time we were spending a lot of time at the house on Raleigh Street where some of our friends were living. I remember watching the news there; I remember they had marked September 11th on their calender as "a day that will live in infamy".

Being the simple-minded pacifist-type that I am, it took me a while to understand the enormity of the event. I mean, terrorist attacks happen all the time, all over the world; it took an attack on our own soil to make Americans sit up and take notice. Do Americans know the date of a single terrorist attack on another nation? But the date of 9/11 is known all over the world. It was our generation's Pearl Harbor. But the "enemy" this time was much more elusive.

I had an online journal then, and I remember quoting the musical Rent in one entry: "The opposite of war isn't peace; it's creation." I was scared to be having a baby at a time when our country was in such emotional chaos; when an attack on civilians made people more concerned with revenge than justice; when there was so much anger where I thought there should have been sorrow instead. Friends started emailing me jokes about "towelheads"; I felt very alone in being a proponent of peace and justice at that time.

Five years later, my world is much different than it was then. I have two beautiful boys who are the center of my world (who I'm already trying to teach the value of peace). Yet our country is still mired in a war in the middle east -- does anyone really know what it's for anymore? The government gives optimistic reports but the media, the soldiers, other nations tell things a little differently.

I'm not going to get political, because I don't have the energy. But I do wonder when and how -- sometimes if -- it will all end. I worry about what the future holds for my boys. What will the world look like when they are men? Will 9/11 still have the same importance in 20 years? Will it be an isolated event from the days before we wiped out terrorism, or will there have been other, bigger, deadlier attacks by then? I don't think about these things often. Most days I just live my life, play with my boys, and enjoy myself, because if I do give in to these wonderings, it's just too scary.

What about you? Thoughts. reflections, experiences? Where were you five years ago today?


08 September 2006

friday photos

Earlier this week, we went to the zoo in Syracuse, where my boys got some close-up views of some big cats:

The lion reminded me of something I overheard a woman saying at the Rochester zoo once; she was telling her friend that they must drug the animals, because they just lay around, they never do anything. That made me laugh at the time -- was she really expecting the Arctic wolves to entertain her on a 90-degree day in July? -- but with the lion at the Syracuse zoo, I wasn't so sure. She looked practically comatose, and despite James and other kids cavorting in front of her, I'm not sure I even saw her blink. But then, maybe she's just so used to kids cavorting in front of her window that it's just not all that interesting anymore. The other two lions in the enclosure were a bit more animated, however, with the male attempting to mate and the female crankily rebuffing him.

In other news, I got my first-ever door-to-door Jehovah's Witnesses today! This time, unlike with the Mormons who came to my door a few years ago, I did not allow them to enter my house or hypnotize me with their unblinking eyes. To their credit, these women were much more subtle -- and much less creepy -- than the Mormons; they never actually said they were Jehovah's Witnesses, and they didn't try to convert me. They were passing out literature -- interestingly, one of the women said they were mostly looking for Chinese-speaking residents to talk to -- but she gave me their booklets: one about evolution vs creation, and one about whether religion is good or bad. (Can you guess the conclusions of each of those topics?)

I perused the material, not because I was terribly interested in either one, but mostly because I don't know much about Jehovah's Witnesses. We have a few relatives who are Jehovah's Witnesses, and I have a friend who was raised as one but doesn't practice now, but I wouldn't have guessed that any of them were particularly religious had no one told me; they're not a very preachy bunch. Anyway, the only thing I was really surprised at was how many times the pamphlets made clear that Jehovah's Witnesses are not Fundamentalists ("We believe in the Bible! This is what the Bible really says!"). They also make sure to distance themselves from creationsists, because of the political implications of the term, though stating that "evolutionary theory and the teachings of Christ are incompatible" does, in fact, make them creationists. Other than these things, though, it was all pretty much as I expected.

So that's all the Friday fun around here. Busy weekend ahead, so you may not hear from me for a couple of days. Happy weekend, everyone.


03 September 2006

sunday photos

In spite of the drizzly weather, we took a long walk in Black Creek Park this afternoon. It was a bit long for James -- by the end he was asking to be carried. We walked about 3 miles altogether, though, and he made it the whole way with energy left to play on the playground at the end of the trail, so it wasn't too terrible. Some photos:

Most of the trail looked like this

But there were several swampy areas

Greg likes to climb

We saw lots of pretty flowers -- no idea what they are

The boys by a peaceful pond

I'll be out of town for a couple of day. Blogging should resume by Wednesday or so.


02 September 2006

explaining the unexplainable

Kim wrote a post recently called "Explaining the Unexplainable" -- about trying to explain to children things such as the purpose of fighter jets or the concept of war. We had a similar experience yesterday.

Greg, flipping through magazine: Wow, it's already been five years since 9/11?
Me: Yep, it happened just before James was born and he's almost five.
James, upon hearing his name come up: What happened just before I was born?
Me and Greg: .....

We kind of brushed it off, because how can you explain that airplanes were flown into buildings without explaining the terrorism that motivated it? And how can you explain the fact that some people will indiscriminately kill others, strangers, for the sake of some cause or ideology? I don't know how to do it; yet someday I know that I will have to do it, and that I will do it (though probably very clumsily).

This is some of the scarier stuff of parenting -- shattering your child's illusions of the world as a wonderful place, and helping them to understand the darker sides of humanity. When it comes to the big talks of parenthood, when faced with describing terrorism and hatred and religious fanaticism and the violence that comes with them, I find myself almost looking forward to having the birds and the bees talk instead.


01 September 2006

chocolate obsession

Those of you who know me know that I like chocolate. Just a little bit. So imagine my delight coming across this book in the library today: Chocolate Obsession. It was the title that drew me in, but then I saw the author's name, and I nearly swooned. You may or may not be familiar with Michael Recchiuti, but he is the creator of Recchiuti chocolates. Admittedly, I have never actually eaten any of his chocolates, because as much as I love chocolate, I'm not interested in being bankrupted by it. But I have spent a considerable amount of time drooling over the Recchiuti website, because damn. Those are the prettiest, most exotic-sounding chocolates I've ever seen.

But now! There is a book! And I can (theoretically) make my own Recchiuti chocolates! I have a feeling that my kitchen is woefully understocked for chocolate-making, and that even making Recchiuti chocolates wouldn't fit my budget, but nonetheless, the possibility now exists. I hardly ever set concrete goals for myself, because I am a lazy, unmotivated person, but I vow here and now that I will someday attempt to make Recchiuti chocolates.

Incidentally, in case you've been agonizing over what to get me for my birthday -- only 79 days away, after all -- you've now got an idea. The book or the chocolates; I'm not picky.