28 September 2007

friday photos

Last weekend we went camping with a group of friends at Watkins Glen State Park. We had a lot of fun, and I have a LOT of photos. It's been tough narrowing down which ones to post, because the hike at Watkins Glen is a phenomenally beautiful climb up a gorge, following a series of waterfalls, along picturesque stone pathways and bridges.

Here's a look down the gorge after climbing lots and lots of steps:

James in front of one of several stone tunnels we passed through on the climb:

Look closely and you'll see a wooden railing beneath this waterfall -- the path goes behind the waterfall, but unfortunately my camera couldn't take a decent picture of people posing behind the waterfall, or of the gorge from behind the waterfall, so I had to content myself with a side view:

Here's Evan enjoying a banana chip at the top of the trail, where it blissfully levels out:

Sunlight shining into the gorge:

It was a really nice trip. The only disappointments that I can recall now are that we didn't get to explore the town as much as I would have liked, and James was frustrated that no one knew any good ghost stories to tell around the campfire. But if those were the worst parts, then that makes this a pretty good weekend away.


27 September 2007

does gender distibution matter?

This is something I've wanted to write about for a while, but never got around to. But this morning Greg and I were having a conversation about the sci-fi and fantasy genres, and I remarked that the lack of female characters in the genre makes it less welcoming to women. And Greg ... doesn't see that. I have a hard time articulating this sort of thing, but I'm going to give it a try.

I was telling him about James dictating a Star Wars game for himself, me, Evan, Neighbor Girl and Neighbor Girl's mother. James was Anakin Skywalker, Evan was Luke Skywalker, Neighbor Girl was Princess Leia, Neighbor Girl's mother was Padme Amidala, and I was Shmi. (Do you know who that is? Anakin's mother.) I realized as he was assigning parts that he'd gone through almost every female Star Wars character I know. (I can think of one other -- Mon Mothma -- but if you haven't spent hours reading through Star Wars books with your obsessive sons, you probably don't know who she is, because she doesn't play a very important role and is never mentioned by name as far as I know.)

I'm talking strictly movies here -- which is what the general population is familiar with -- even though I'm vaguely aware that Star Wars books and games introduce a lot of other female characters. The movies have, essentially, three important female characters (and calling Shmi important is kind of a stretch). For Neighbor Girl to play a cool Star Wars woman, she can be Leia or Padme. But my boys? They can be Luke, Anakin, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Obi Wan, Darth Vader, the Emperor, Mace Windu, Yoda, Qui-Gon Jinn, Boba Fett, Lando... and that's just off the top of my head.

The same goes for Lord of the Rings, the other big fantasy series of recent years. Obviously you can find fantasy with female lead characters if you're looking for it (Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy comes to mind) but the works in that genre -- both in movies and books -- which become popular in the larger culture, which trancsend the genre to become universally well-known, are dominated by male characters.

Greg (along with a lot of other people) doesn't think that's a big deal. He pointed out the important role Eowyn played in Lord of the Rings as an example -- but she's still a bit player who just happens to perform a crucial role. And she's one of three notable women in the entire series. And the thing that it's hard to get across to a man, who has grown up watching men dominate society, in both the real world and fiction, is that this disparity matters. The numbers matter. The stereotypes matter. The lack of representation matters. It matters to see a world not populated by people like you. If little girls can't find role models in a genre, it will not appeal to them as much as a genre that does have those role models.

I could probably go on and on about this (and I probably will return to this topic again), but luckily for you I've got other demands on my time. But I do have one item to leave you with before I wrap up this post. Actress Geena Davis has founded an organization called See Jane, which aims to promote the need for equal gender representation in kids' entertainment. You can watch Geena give a phenomenal speech here (sorry, couldn't get the embedding to work), or if you don't have 20 minutes to watch the video (though I'd really recommend that you do, if you have the time), you can read a short article at Ms. Magazine about her ogranization. Their research came up with some surprising statistics about gender distribution in kids' media, and I think you'll find, if you start keeping count, the same imbalance often holds true for adult entertainment as well (unless you're watching something specifically designated as a chick flick or something similar).

As Davis says in the Ms. article, “If your movie gets labeled a chick flick it’s the kiss of death. What if that has something to do with having seen the exact same gender disparity from minute one, from the very first cartoons and programs you see — couldn’t that possibly affect the way we grow up feeling?” I'd go a step further and say, how can it possibly not affect the way our culture views gender? How can it not affect the way little girls see themselves, or the way boys see girls, to see boys at the center of every story, and girls in the supporting roles? The message sinks in so gradually and so insidiouly that most people don't realize it, and eventually don't even think it matters that much.


21 September 2007

friday photos

So what have I been doing lately that's been keeping me away from the computer? What have I been doing that leaves me so little time and gives me so little material for blogging?

I've been in the kitchen, being little Suzie Homemaker (as my mom might say). Last weekend I went to the market with salsa on my mind. I came home with approximately 823423 pounds of tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, and red and green bell peppers.

Some of my beautiful peppers.

In the early part of the week, I hauled out my canning equipment and went crazy with salsa. I spent hours and hours chopping vegetables, and then hours and hours waiting for the water to boil in my canning pot. (This is all slightly exaggerated, but not much. It took waaaaay too long, and seeing as I always underestimate the time it will take me to do things, I was dealing with salsa for far longer than I had planned.)

But it looks so pretty, doesn't it?

Once the salsa was finished, I had produced eight pints over the course of three days, and I still had a mountain of tomatoes and peppers left over. So then I spent the next couple of days making a giant batch of spaghetti sauce, which doesn't really taste like spaghetti sauce so much as it tastes like tomato puree, which is largely what it is. How do you get spaghetti sauce to taste like spaghetti sauce?

On top of dealing with the produce, I have begun making my own bread all the time now, since my mom found me a bread machine at a rummage sale. This doesn't actually take much time or effort on my part, but still, I thought I'd mention it, because what's as great as homemade bread? Nothing, that's what.

And we are off this weekend on a camping trip with friends, so last night I stayed up late baking two and a half dozen pumpkin spice muffins, and they are delicious.


Now that I've (mostly) used up my produce, I'll be able to take a little break from the kitchen. I'm really looking forward to cooking over a campfire this weekend -- no chopping vegetables, no washing dishes, what a treat! Until next weekend, when I go apple picking and get to work on making gallons of applesauce. Hope everyone has a great weekend!


19 September 2007

two weeks

I can't believe I haven't posted in almost two weeks. Oops! Sometimes life gets in the way of this blogging stuff.

I've decided, though, that it's finally time to write about James' kindergarten experience, now that he's been a kindergartener for two weeks. Of course I have no photos, because it has just never occurred to me to bring the camera to the bus stop, so words will have to suffice.

Are any of you surprised when I say that he totally, completely loves kindergarten? We all love it. And can you guess what his favorite subject is? Keep in mind that my child is half-monkey, sees the entire world as a jungle gym, and hardly ever stops running. Now can you guess? His second favorite subject is less obvious, though not surprising (at least to me): he loves math, which ranks second to gym only because they don't officially have science in kindergarten, though math is pretty close. In third place is the library. (See? He's not 100% Greg. There's a little of me in there too.)

We found out on the first day of school that the little girl who lives two doors down from us is in his kindergarten class. Not only does she have as much energy as James, but she likes Star Wars! What more could a boy ask for? She is blonde and excitable and rambunctious and reminds me of a girl of similar description who James used to be good friends with.

He goes to school for almost three hours in the afternoon, but including the bus, he's gone for almost three and a half hours every day. I initially thought that I'd rather have him in morning kindergarten, so that I could have the mornings with Evan and the afternoons with James while Evan napped, as when he was in preschool, but the afternoon time is working out pretty nicely for me anyway. James leaves, Evan naps, and I have uninterrupted free time. It makes me giddy. I'll have to post another day about what I've been doing with that free time.

Kindergarten has a very different feel from preschool. Mostly for me, I imagine. I was so involved with James' preschool, I knew the teacher and all of the parents, I assisted there on a regular basis, I dropped him off and picked him up there and knew the daily routine and basically knew exactly what he was doing in his time away from me. He was gone, but it didn't feel like he was that far away.

And kindergarten? All of a sudden there are hours of my son's life about which I know virtually nothing. And with James, sometimes it's like pulling teeth to get the details. I've heard some songs, he's brought home a couple of worksheets, I've heard details here and there, but I still feel like I am missing out on a lot. For someone who's physically been with the kid almost 24/7 for almost 6 years, it's a weird feeling to watch him embarking on his own life, and knowing that I will never get that closeness back. He'll only grow further and further away from here on out.

Not that that's a bad thing. It's fascinating to watch him develop into an independent person, to find out which details he's eager to tell me and which I have to pry out of him, to see him becoming more confident, more sure of himself (I hadn't thought that was possible, but apparently there was room to grow even for James). One of the best parts of parenting has been seeing the results of all my labor, and realizing that this person, this wonderful child he's become, was really worth all of the sleepless nights and endless diapers and emotional meltdowns (both his and mine).

Today, two weeks into kindergarten, he ran ahead of me to the bus, and climbed aboard without a hug, without a wave, without a backwards glance. And I smiled to see him go, because that is James: diving into everything headfirst, with confidence and excitement, and I love him for it.


07 September 2007

friday photos

Yes, today is James' third day of school, but me being the negligent mother that I am, I've forgotten every day this week to bring the camera to the bus stop for the mandatory first-day-of-school photo. (That's once we were assigned to a bus, which didn't happen until the first day of school was over, but that's another story.) So one of these days I will get a photo of him with his new backpack and his new bus and probably his new best friend too, but the school stories will wait until then.

Meanwhile, I'll post photos from Labor Day. We went boating with a friend of ours. All of the boys went canoeing (Greg and the friend who came with us are training for their second Adventure Race) and I went kayaking. It was beautiful, aside from the facts that the canal runs parallel to a major (noisy) highway and my total lack of upper body strength. I thought my arms were going to fall out of their sockets before the two-mile trip came to an end (two miles being approximately 1.8 miles more than I've ever kayaked before), but I'm here typing, so obviously I managed to hang onto them.

The boys were a little scared of the canoe, mostly because of the rocking, but to my mind that means we just haven't taken them boating enough. If only we didn't have to rent kayaks and canoes. Ah, well, someday...

Anyway, a couple of photos:


03 September 2007


This weekend has been the first since July in which we haven't been moving or traveling, and I cannot properly describe how nice it has felt to be able to sit around the house and relax. And it has been a really good weekend. Simple, but nice.

Saturday we had a lot of errands to run -- this is the first opportunity we've had to shop for things for the new apartment. So we ran around in the most extensive and inclusive commercial district I've ever been to (seriously, name a chain store and you will find it within five miles of our now-closest mall) to purchase things like new shoes for James, coat hooks, an air filter for the car, and extra storage bins. This wouldn't have been much fun, except that we discovered a farmer's market in the mall parking lot. The promise of farm-fresh fruits and vegetables sped us through our boring errands.

There is little I like better than a farmer's market. And I haven't been to one in a while, even before we moved. We stopped going to the Public Market (the huge and wonderfully chaotic market in downtown Rochester) after returning to our car one morning, laden with produce, to find that directly across the street from where we were parked, a car had driven over the curb and somehow flipped itself over onto another parked car. Right across from where we parked. The insane traffic and crowds had always been the worst part of the Public Market experience, and this close call -- how lucky were we that this lunatic driver had veered left instead of right! -- was the last straw for us.

But now we have found a new market, one where people park in the mall parking lot, where there is plenty of space for everyone, unlike the Public Market, which has one parking space for approximately 70 cars and you frequently end up parking on a sketchy side street several blocks away. Anyway, so I went a little crazy at the market, and we ended up with tons of zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, nectarines, and eggplant. I hadn't been intending to buy eggplant, but I saw a really amusing eggplant and couldn't resist:

Worthy of Saxton Freyman (I have a Saxton Freyman calender which I adore).

Greg, of course, had to get a little more creative:

And because of farmer's market prices, I couldn't buy just one. But I did put our excess of vegetables to good use. James has been begging me to make Ratatouille ever since we saw the movie this summer, and to my surprise, he actually liked it. Evan didn't, of course, but we were expecting that.

Hmmm, I wasn't intending to write four paragraphs on produce, but I guess that tells you a little something about me and my priorities in life. I'll try to be a little more brief about the rest of the weekend. Yesterday we took a trip to Mendon Ponds, so that Greg could practice orienteering in preparation for another Adventure Race he's doing this fall. So Greg went traipsing off into the woods with some friends, while I took the boys to the nature center and on a hike that was supposed to be short, but ended up being a lot longer than planned due to the fact that I have no sense of direction. I wasn't expecting it to be much fun -- my kids on hikes are sometimes fine but often very whiny -- but we did have fun, though we were tired by the end (except for Evan, who I carried on most of the hike).

Today I think we're going to try to go canoeing. We've been fortunate that our first weekend at home in more than a month has been sunny and warm without being hot or humid. Today I will also do some baking, because my several pounds of zucchini won't eat itself.

Other highlights of the weekend include movies (The Departed, about which I don't really understand all of hype or the Oscars, although I liked it, and Little Miss Sunshine, about which I totally understand the positive reviews -- I loved it, and I didn't think it was possible, but I love Steve Carrell more than ever), dinner out at a restaurant with friends (where Evan informed the waitress, "I'm Megatron, lady!"), Planet Earth (which we've borrowed from the library, and which has only increased my adoration of David Attenborough, whose Life series -- Life of Mammals, Life of Birds, Life in the Undergrowth, etc -- my kids and I totally love), and just having time. Free time. Sigh.

And still the bulk of this post is about produce. Oh well.