22 December 2008

surviving a vacation at home

Today is Day Three that we were not supposed to be at home. Remember that 6am flight Monday morning we were supposed to be on? Canceled yesterday at noon. Waking up this morning to mountains of snow and more coming down, I can understand why. Hopefully the weather will be clear enough to fly us out tomorrow. Otherwise we might miss Christmas, and here's how we feel about that:

(Those are sad faces, if it's not obvious.)

We haven't been home for Christmas since before James was born, and we haven't had this much snow in a couple of years, so we are trying to make the most of our unintended vacation and have as much fun as we can.

On Saturday we went sledding, and while we have no photos of the actual sledding, we have happy smiles of kids playing in the snow:

(I think we need a new camera; the color quality of our photos is going further and further downhill.)

When not playing outside, my kids have been spending a lot of time with video games. They're still hooked on Spore, and they got Lego Batman from my sister and her husband for Christmas, so it's hard to tear them away sometimes. Ordinarily I try to keep the video games to a minimum, but really, I can't bring myself to care lately. We're supposed to be with their grandparents right now. If video games make them a little less sad about that, so be it.

I've been baking a lot, because what's Christmas without baking? So we have pumpkin muffins and granola bars and peanut butter cups, and an apple strudel for breakfast this morning. The snow has been heavy enough to intimidate us from going to the grocery store (that and the thought of all the terrible drivers on the road) but it's amazing what you can make from odds and ends in the cupboards and the freezer.

The best, though, is the gingerbread house my friend Sara brought over yesterday. Here's what it's supposed to look like, per the package:

And here's how ours turned out:

When we opened the package, we found a lot of broken pieces that had to be repaired with frosting. Most of the little figures were broken as well, though the frosting couldn't glue them back together. So our happy holiday gingerbread house evolved into a sort of Christmas House of Horrors. The hunchback was the perpetrator (at least we think he/she/it is a hunchback -- a little hard to tell with these candy people): the little boy is strung up on the side of the house, and the little girl has been decapitated in the front yard. We contributed to the depravity by committing cannibalism once the house was finished.

Here's a close-up of the poor little girl.

So that's how we're filling our vacation days. Hopefully tomorrow we'll be off to the west coast, and hopefully we'll make it in time for Christmas. I'll keep you all updated.


20 December 2008

hahaha, did i say hiatus?

...because the Fates had other plans for us. Or maybe I should say Northwest Airlines had other plans. Alternate post title: air travel sucks, especially when there's no travel involved.

Today finds me at home with two wide-open days to fill, so I thought I'd use my new-found wealth of free time to blog about how I got all this extra time. Any of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook may have read my disgruntled updates yesterday, so now you can get the full story. I'll try to keep it brief, but no promises, because I might get ranty. Read the whole saga below the fold:

Friday, Dec. 19

3:30am: Alarm clock jolts us out of sleep

3:55am: Taxi arrives to take us to the airport

4:05am: Standing in line at Northwest check-in counter

4:20am: NW employees begin to arrive

4:30am: Check-in counter opens and we proceed to check in and check 3 large suitcases

5:00am: Checked in and through security, waiting at the gate

5:30am: Boarding begins for 6am flight to Detroit

6:00am: Airplane backs out of the gate to prepare for flight

Around this time, our pilot makes an announcement: the weather in Detroit isn't looking so good, and we may have to reroute to either Pittsburgh or Minneapolis. We cross our fingers for Minneapolis, since that's our layover between Detroit and Seattle. They are adding extra fuel to the plane in case we are rerouted.

5-10 minutes later, our pilot makes another announcement: the extra fuel has pushed our airplane over the weight limit and they are looking for nine volunteers to get off the plane. No one moves. Plane returns to the gate.

5 or so minutes later, flight crew makes an announcement: NW has another plane headed directly to Minneapolis, and anyone who gets off our plane can be rebooked on the Minneapolis flight. Greg goes to the front of the plane to speak to the NW representative.

Greg returns to me and the kids and says we can get off and go straight to Minneapolis on another flight instead of going through Detroit. We exit the plane with 5 other passengers who have the same plan.

7:00am: We are told at the ticket counter that the NW flight to Minneapolis that was used to lure us off the plane has no extra seats. We are issued travel vouchers and meal vouchers and rebooked on a 12:15pm flight to Detroit.

7:30am: Muffins, bagels and coffee at Dunkin' Donuts, courtesy of NW meal vouchers.

8:30am - 11am: We set up camp next to the children's play area. Kids run and jump and play while Greg and I amuse ourselves with the laptop and the Nintendo DS.

11am-ish: Head back to gate to check status of our new flight. Flight is delayed. Snow has started falling in earnest.

12pm-ish: Find a quiet, unoccupied gate to settle in and wait for flight status updates.

1pm-ish: Lunch at Subway courtesy of NW meal vouchers.

2pm - 5pm: Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Repeated flight delays. We are told that a flight headed to Rochester was rerouted to Syracuse, and our flight is dependent on that plane getting to Rochester from Syracuse. We also learn during this time period that our luggage has arrived in Seattle. Thankfully our toothbrushes are in our carry-on bags.

5:00pm: Another Detroit flight begins boarding. There are extra seats on this flight but the line of standby passengers is too long for us to get on board. At this point our 12:15pm flight is expected to leave at 7pm.

5:30pm: Detroit flight that has just boarded is now deboarding. I mention this because for the second time in one day, a NW flight is over the weight limit and passengers are asked to leave. This time, however, all passengers must exit the plane because one of the random passengers who was asked to get off refused and argued, and caused this flight to miss its window of opportunity to take off.

6:00pm: The same flight to Detroit begins reboarding.

6:30pm: The flight to Detroit is boarded, but by this time, so many passengers have missed their connecting flights and rebooked new flights for other days that there are 8 available seats.

Around this time, the flight crew is trying to determine how many more people they can take while staying within the weight limits. A pilot approaches us and asks if we are headed to Detroit; when we say yes he tells us he'd like to get us on the plane because our children would help keep the plane under the weight limit.

Then this pilot disappears and is never seen again.

The NW agent at the check-in counter begins letting standby passengers onto the flight. Greg inquires at the counter and we are told we can't get on this flight. The woman tells us that there is some feature of their computer system that won't allow her to change us to this flight, despite the fact that it's going to our destination and there are seats available, because we are still booked on the 12:15pm flight.

7:00pm: Flight to Detroit that we were not allowed to change to takes off. We are told that the plane we are waiting for from Syracuse is on its way and is expected to arrive at 7:30pm. We buy snacks to wait, still using vouchers. At least they were generous about that.

7:30pm: NW agent tells us that the plane from Syracuse is no longer listed as in the air, and our flight time has been moved back to 8:30pm. The kids are starting to get stir-crazy and continually ask when we're getting on the plane to go see Grandma and Papa.

8:00pm: At this point there are eight people left waiting: the four of us, a college student, and a couple with a 17-month old baby. We are all trying to get to Detroit to transfer on to other locations. I send NW a complaint through their website, detailing our saga.

8:30pm: We are informed that the plane we've been waiting for for over 8 hours has had a mechanical issue and our flight is canceled. We are all in tears of exhaustion, frustration and disappointment by this point.

9:00pm: We are rebooked for a Monday morning flight, 6am. We are told that there are no flights available on Saturday, and there is only one flight on Sunday, but it is already overbooked by 15 people, and there is another winter storm due on Sunday anyway. We are given additional travel vouchers. Evan asks if we're getting on the airplane now and I laugh and cry at the same time.

9:30pm: A friend picks us up at the airport to take us home.

10:00pm: We watch A Muppet Family Christmas while I make pasta for my starving children, who are too tired to eat more than a few bites despite how hungry they have been for the last couple of hours.

10:45pm: My children fall asleep, one on the couch and the other on the floor, and I carry them to bed.

11:00pm: Greg phones NW's Baggage Services to find out what is going to happen to our luggage. The employee he speaks with at first argues that our luggage can't be in Seattle, because it should have been taken off the flight when we got off the plane, despite the fact that more than one NW agent told us over the course of the day that our luggage was in Seattle. Then the customer service rep tells Greg that he will have to return to our airport to file a claim with the NW baggage office there. Greg, bless his little heart, argues with the woman for 5 minutes before she relents and checks the damn computer to find that yes, our bags are in Seattle and we can pick them up when we arrive there. Which will hopefully be on Monday.

Today we woke up late to a beautiful day, sunny, with fluffy white snow everywhere. We were dismayed to remember that our kids' boots and snow clothes are in our luggage, but luckily I found some slightly outgrown and some slightly too big items in the basement that will suffice for going sledding today. We have enough canned and frozen food to save us from having to go grocery shopping. We are planning to enjoy our extra two days of vacation even if we're not where we wish we were. We're just hoping that the snow that's expected on Sunday both here and in Seattle will be over by Monday morning so we can just get to our family for Christmas, damn it.

If you've made it to the end of this, thanks for indulging my self-pitying rant. I would advise you to steer clear of Northwest Airlines, but honestly, I don't trust that the others are that much better. The quality of our experiences with air travel has been steadily worsening over the last few years, regardless of which airline we're on. And they don't have to care, because we don't really have any choice.

Sigh. Hope everyone out there is having a better time than we are. And hopefully I won't have anything to blog about any time soon.


17 December 2008


Thought I should drop in on the ol' blog to say that I've been way too busy with holiday stuff (and a little bit busy with practicing my laziness) to think about writing any blog posts, and in two days we're leaving for a two-week vacation at Greg's parents' house. I expect that once we're there I'll still be busy with holiday stuff, as well as catching up with the family and playing Rock Band, to do any posting any time soon, so consider the Jungle to be on temporary hiatus.

I don't know whether I've officially mentioned it here, but I'm on Twitter now (see sidebar). I will probably Twitter while I'm away, since that doesn't require much time or effort or thought, so you can still check in here for my Twitter mini-updates, or follow me on the Twitter site if you're eager to know how lazy and/or indulgent I'm being over the holidays.

I hope the next couple of weeks are fun and happy and healthy for everyone, and I'll see you back here in January!


05 December 2008

friday photos: thanksgiving edition

I forgot to bring my camera to my mom's house for Thanksgiving, so I'm stealing some of my sister's photos to post. I spent a lot of time hogging her sweet camera, so it's pretty likely that I took these photos anyway. These are, by the way, photos of three of the things I was most thankful for over our Thanksgiving vacation.

James has been experimenting with a ponytail lately, and this is his samurai impression:

Those of you who know Greg will not be surprised when I say that he was the instigator of the frosting war paint:

Amazing turkey cupcakes that my sister and her husband bought.

Okay, so I'm kidding about cupcakes being one of the top three things I'm thankful for, but seriously, look at the detail on that frosting. That entire thing is edible, and extremely rich and delicious. And we all know that Thanksgiving is about cramming yourself full of desserts that singularly exceed your recommended daily intake of calories. Besides, it's not as easy to take photos of the things I'm truly thankful for: love, good health, prosperity, safe travels, family togetherness, and all that good intangible stuff.


04 December 2008

bankrupting ourselves with holiday travel

Okay, I mentioned in my last post that I wasn't going to complain about airfare prices, among other things, but this is less of a complaining post and more of a startled observation. With math.

Get Rich Slowly linked to an interesting site yesterday: Cost To Drive. You put in your starting point, destination, and what type of car you're driving, and it calculates your estimated fuel costs. The site finds the lowest prices for gas along the way, so it's really more of a minimum cost, but it's still fun to play with.

So this morning, as I was playing with the site, I dusted off the seldom-used math part of my brain and did some additional calculations. Because the site uses the lowest prices, I rounded up (waaaay up) to reflect potential fluctuations and the fact that one might not always find the lowest-priced gas around. I learned that, even with my rounding, our plane tickets for Christmas break cost more than five times the price of fuel for a drive across the country and back.

Then I figured that if we were to drive from New York to Washington, even if we were to stay in decent hotels and eat out, we could easily do the round trip for less than half of the price of our plane tickets. By driving, we save ourselves at least 4 days of travel (assuming that somehow we'd be able to drive pretty much non-stop), which means that we are spending at least $250 a day for those four extra days with Greg's family. Ouch. Not that they're not worth that, of course, but still. Ouch.


03 December 2008

three and a half

I have been feeling, shall we say, rather negative lately. I have been tempted to write posts complaining about the price of airfare, or the insurance annoyances we're having lately, or about James' various illnesses, but I thought I'd make an effort to be more positive and write a post instead about Evan, who is nearing 3 and a half years old, which is, despite its challenges, an endlessly amusing age for a child to be.

Evan talks pretty much all the time, narrating everything, and I've started writing down some of the funnier things he says. There are basically two categories of Evan-speak: the definitions, and the narration.

Some recent Evan definitions:

"Mom, remember when Dad’s taco was all fludged over? Fludged means that something’s dirty or yucky."

Evan: My nose hurts.
Me: What did you do to your nose?
Evan: Maybe I skicked it.
Me: What does “skicked” mean?
Evan: It means you hurt your nose, or maybe bonked it on a door.
Me: Did you bonk your nose on a door?
Evan: No.

Evan: I’m gonna whip-notize you. (while swinging his “whip” [i.e. the belt of his bathrobe] around.)
Me: Hypnotize me?
Evan: No, WHIPnotize.
Me: What does that mean?
Evan: It means someone is going to put a banana on your head. Or a fish.

Me: Who's hitting my stomach?
Evan: Oh, I thought that was a hitterang.
Me: A hitterang?
Evan: A hitterang means something you can hit.

And some classic narration:

[While jumping on the bed and practicing his moves in front of the mirror] "You know what this attack is called? Punch! Hit! Chop! I do the dance of punch! Hit! Chop! I do the dance about punch! Hit! Chop! And then I jump and then I punch! Hit! Chop! Jump! Hop! Punch! Hit! Chop! Whack! Jump!"

"Mmm. Goody. When I say goody, that means I like this dinner. Mmm, goody. Hot hot! When I say hot hot, that means I need a drink. Hot hot! [takes a drink] Soupy! When I take a drink I say soupy! [drinks] Soupy!"

He still has his moments as far as tantrums go, but he makes me laugh at least twice as often as he makes me cry, so I'll take it.


21 November 2008

friday photos: first grade update edition

Last week we had James' parent-teacher conference. We suspected that the conference, like all previous conferences with James' teachers, would be fine, because he is bright and, with the occasional exception of talking too much, generally well-behaved.

Also, I had heard a funny story from our neighbor a week or two earlier after his conference with his daughter's teacher. Neighbor Girl and James are in different classes this year, but still play together every day after school. NG's teacher was asking NG's dad about what NG does outside of school, and NG's dad mentioned that NG plays with her neighbor James a lot. NG's teacher said, "Oh, you mean Smart James from the other class?"

So, knowing that other teachers in the school know our son as "Smart James" had us feeling pretty relaxed going into this conference.

We love James' teacher this year. Mrs. M. is friendly, enthusiastic and experienced, and best of all, she loves James to pieces and couldn't say enough about how well he is doing in school. The only issue that came up at the conference was when we told Mrs. M. that James thinks school is too easy and he would love to have more challenging work (something he's told us on a regular basis since school began this year). Luckily Mrs. M. realizes how bright James is, and that he could benefit from more challenging work, but unfortunately it seems she has little flexibility to provide him with more challenges. Because of the requirements and structure of the first-grade routine, Mrs. M. doesn't have time to work individually with James on advanced material. And it certainly wouldn't be fair to ask her to put in extra work for a kid who's already excelling when she probably has her hands full trying to keep some of the other kids up to speed with regular class work.

So we're trying to spend some extra time working with James at home. Last weekend I bought him a 320-page workbook of second grade skills, which he is currently flying through with little trouble. He is perfectly content to sit down and fill out worksheet after worksheet of spelling and math problems. Good practice for his handwriting, too. And we're currently reading Beverly Cleary's Ramona books, which James is enjoying just as much as I did at his age.

I never realized when James started school that it would be so much more work for us, but the older he gets, the more fun we are all having.

Oh, and a word on Evan: I discovered yesterday that he can recognize the numbers 1-9, when I thought he didn't know any of them. Smart kids!


07 November 2008

friday photos: end of autumn edition

One of the nice things about renting is that you don't have to do any yardwork, but you do get to enjoy the fruits of the maintenance crew's labor. They recently took a leafblower to some areas of the complex, and for about a week my kids have been eying a particularly enormous pile of leaves near the end of our street.

We've had gorgeous weather this week, but both Greg and I have been fighting off some kind of vague undefinable illness for a few days, so it wasn't until yesterday that I felt ambitious enough to actually take the kids to the end of the street to play in the leaves.

And this leaf pile, oh my gosh, the kids were tunneling through it, they were swimming in it, they were at times completely buried and lost from sight. They had an absolute blast. And good thing, too, because this morning some workers from the town came by and took away all those leaves.


04 November 2008

election day

Happy Election Day! I hope you're all going out to vote today.

James has the day off of school today, so after breakfast all four of us headed down to our town hall to vote. No voter drama here -- there was one couple ahead of us in line, voting went off without a hitch, and the poll workers gave my kids their own "I Voted Today" stickers. Then we headed to Starbucks for our free coffee (we don't have a Ben & Jerry's near us, and I didn't know about Krispy Kreme in time or else my children would have been in a sugar coma before lunchtime).

I have to say, regardless of political affiliations or opinions, Election Day is so exciting to me. It was so nice waiting in Starbucks and seeing almost every other person wearing wearing an "I Voted Today" sticker, and conversing with fellow voters. Evan finally changed his mind about McCain and was chattering happily about Obama, to the delight of other customers. We overheard one pair of customers telling another pair to make sure they vote today, because their employers have to give them time to vote.

I've been seeing a lot of inspirational stories in the news lately, about people waiting in line for up to six hours to vote early, about elderly people registering to vote for the first time in their lives because of this election. I know several people who've donated their time to help campaign during this election. James came home from school yesterday shouting excitedly that his school had elected Obama.

Election fever, it's everywhere.

And I have heard stories about voter fraud, about sneaky measures to impede people's right to vote or to disenfranchise people, rumors that the election will be stolen by one side or the other. Obviously there are some problems with our voting system. But to see people's hope and optimism and excitement and patriotism in the face of these challenges is just so heart-warming to me. I feel so happy to be an American today, to be able to be part of this process, to voice my opinion, to be part of something so much bigger than myself.

Please vote today. And feel free to share any interesting election day stories!


02 November 2008

happy belated halloween

...from your two favorite junior superheroes:


31 October 2008

friday photos: halloween edition

No photos yet of the kids in costume, but we've been getting in the Halloween spirit in other ways.

Chocolate Mice:

(Not a great photo, I know, but I swear to you those delicious little mice were impossible to photograph!)

Spider Deviled Eggs:

I made some nerdy Halloween decorations:

And another jack o'lantern masterpiece from Greg: a skeleton/snowman jack o'lantern.

Happy Halloween, everyone!


29 October 2008

i have failed as a parent.

Somebody's been reading right-wing propoganda behind my back:

Evan: I'm voting for McCain!
Me: Oh? Why are you voting for McCain?
Evan: Because he has a better plan.
Me: Really? What's his plan?
Evan: To save the world. And Obama's plan is to destroy the world.


20 October 2008

the political post

I don't write much about politics on my blog. I don't keep my views a secret -- I have my tagline and my "Obama Mama" button (thanks, Jessica!) in plain view on the front page -- but I don't often write about it, in part because most people who read my blog already know or can guess my views, in part because I get really worked up about certain political issues and, for the sake of my mental health, it's best to avoid getting into them too frequently, and in part because I would mostly be preaching to the choir here.

But I can't refrain from doing just one political post this year. There are a lot of things I could complain about, in regards to both presidential candidates, but there is one issue that's been coming up a lot recently, in the debates, in speeches, in election ads, that is driving me crazy: taxes, especially as they relate to economic class.

McCain and Palin have spent a lot of time criticizing Obama's tax plan, arguing (falsely) that it will hurt Joe Sixpack and Joe the Plumber and anyone else named Joe in the middle class. Palin has mocked Biden for saying in his campaign speeches that it is an act of patriotism to pay taxes. McCain has, since the last debate, spent a lot of time deriding Obama's plan to "spread the wealth around." They're hinting that an Obama/Biden administration is the first step on the path that will lead the US to socialism.** Under a McCain/Palin administration, however, good old free-market capitalism will ensure that everyone will make as much money as they possibly can, and hold on to every last cent. No need to share your hard-earned money with any free-loading poor people, or those soulless bloodsuckers in Congress! Sounds nice in theory, doesn't it?

My opinion on taxes is pretty well summed up by former Supreme Court judge Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr: "I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization." Republicans seem to have forgotten what taxes are actually used for. Presently, I'm not a fan of the large percentage of taxes which are being used to fund an ill-conceived and mismanaged war, but I would happily pay more taxes if it would ensure that every person in America had access to health care, that every child in America had access to a solid, well-funded, free education (including college), that the war would be ended, that more money would be invested in funding alternative energy sources and scientific research, and that failing infrastructure would be improved -- to name just a few.

The problem with arguing that your money should be yours to keep because you've earned it, is that you're ignoring all of the taxpayer-funded factors that contributed to you being able to earn that money. Were you educated in public schools? Do you drive a car that meets safety standards down a paved road equipped with traffic lights? Have you ever taken antibiotics that were tested for safety and approved by a federal agency? Can you call 911 and expect that police, fire, or ambulance will be dispatched to your home or the scene of an accident? Do you have mail delivered to your house and business almost every day of the year, free of charge? Heck, do you eat food or drink clean water?

Without taxes funding all of these aspects so necessary to daily life and to help our society flourish, you might be making more money, but you'd be spending more from your own pocket to make up for the shortfall. It is in the best interest of a society -- it is essential to the growth and prosperity of a society -- to protect public health and safety, to promote law and order, and to educate its citizens. Taxes may fund some things you don't personally approve of, but they fund many more things that we, as a society, require for our continued improvement.

What about Biden's patriotism angle? I guess that depends on your definition of patriotism. Personally, my patriotic relationship to my country resembles my relationship to my children. I love them, I am grateful for the things (both tangible and intangible) that they give me, I am proud of their accomplishments, I am occasionally disappointed in their bad behavior, but ultimately I want to see them succeed, and I will, to the best of my ability, help them achieve success. Part of that necessarily involves spending money to help support them. It is because I love America that I am happy to pay taxes to support all of the things that make this such a nice place to live.

I mentioned economic class above, and here's where that comes in: so far, all I've heard any politician talking about is the middle class. How do we help the middle class keep their homes, how do we help the middle class send their kids to college, how do we help the middle class afford rising gas prices? It seems like such a long time ago that I was a supporter of John Edwards, but before the primaries he was my top choice, in part because he was willing to talk about poverty, and how to help eliminate it. When he dropped out of the race he was congratulated on making poverty a priority for the Democrats, and Clinton and Obama both promised to keep talking about how to reduce poverty. And now... when is the last time you heard any politician mention poverty? The problem with focusing on housing, or college tuition, or gas prices, is that you're ignoring the people who don't even have homes and cars, and whose children will not be going to college no matter how cheap it is.

I wrote above about all of the societal benefits that are funded by taxes. We pay taxes collectively in order that all citizens might share in what these taxes pay for. That some people have managed to enjoy these benefits while building a great deal of wealth is incredibly fortunate. It doesn't happen that way for most people, and not because of laziness or stupidity, but because there is a lot of arbitrary unfairness built into our economic system. Personally I believe that the work I do raising my children to be educated, responsible citizens is, in the long run, a greater benefit to society as a whole than the work that a professional baseball player does. Yet somehow our free market has decided that a man who gets to play games for a living should be compensated more in one year than I will probably make in my entire life. I'm not asking for pity -- certainly I've made a choice here -- but it's a good example of how skewed our values as a society are. I can obviously see that some jobs require more skill, more training, more education, more time, more physical effort than others, and should be compensated accordingly, but in general the disparity in income between social classes is far larger than is reasonable, and I'm all for Obama's plan to "spread the wealth around" and make things a little more equitable.

McCain has also criticized Obama's proposed tax credits for people who don't pay income tax. Something I never hear mentioned in discussion of these tax credits is that these people who are not paying income tax are not paying because they don't even make enough money to live on, let alone be taxed on. Right now, we are one of those families. We pay no income tax because a graduate student's salary is not enough for a family of four to live on. Without tax refunds and credits, we would be bankrupt by now. Maybe this will sound hard to believe, but I actually look forward to being able to pay taxes, because it will mean 1) that we have enough money to live on with some to spare and 2) that we will be able to repay the government for the benefits they've given us over the last few years.

My family is on the threshold of becoming middle class, and if we ever do get up above Obama's proposed $250,000 cut-off (which was not chosen randomly or arbitrarily, but because the people who earn more than that in a year make up the top 5% in the US), I really will be happy to pay taxes to help the 95% of Americans who are not so fortunate. Especially those closest to the bottom. I don't have any complaints about paying taxes. I might disagree on how those taxes should be spent, but if I have some extra money that could be used to teach a child to read, to clean up environmental waste so that people have clean drinking water, to give someone a new kidney, to rebuild a bridge that collapsed, well, why wouldn't I give that money? Why wouldn't anyone want to contribute to making our neighborhoods and cities and states and our country clean and safe and healthy?
** There's a good article in today's New York Times that explains just how hypocritical it is for McCain to accuse Obama of socialism.


17 October 2008

friday photos: long weekend edition

Last weekend my mom came out to visit, and because of the Columbus Day holiday she got to stay for an extra day. With two full days to work with, we managed to have a pretty busy weekend, and lots of fun.

Saturday was supposed to be Pirate Day up at the beach, and it turned out that there was very little pirate activity going on, but it was a beautiful day to be at the lake. On Sunday we went apple picking and stopped for ice cream on the way home because it was so unusually sunny and warm.

Greg and I also celebrated our eighth anniversary over the weekend, going out to a nice dinner and going out on the town with friends, but we didn't manage to take any photos of those events.

Lots and lots of photos under the fold.

Evan wading in frigid water while fat Canadian geese swim by.

Fun to play in the sand any time of year.

Just before he laid down and started sand-swimming.

I haven't looked it up yet, but we think this is a cormorant.

It was a stunningly gorgeous day.

We made a quick stop at the beach's playground.

They actually love playing together. So cute.

James' best pirate face at the wheel of the not-a-pirate-ship we toured.

Evan riding a lion on the beach's historic carousel.

James rode a rabbit on the carousel.

James was a big help picking apples.

"Look, Mom! I made a X with the apples!"

I wish that all weekends could be so fun. Though, I suppose if they were, they wouldn't be quite as special, so maybe it's better this way.


15 October 2008

i was a girl scout, but i wasn't prepared for this.

James came home yesterday waving a flier for Cub Scouts sign-ups. I was really hoping to avoid this scenario altogether, but since this is the second flier we've had sent home, in addition to seeing a sign-up booth at his school's open house a few weeks ago, apparently they've been advertising it so much that it's finally wormed its way into my son's consciousness, and he's decided that he wants to be a Cub Scout.

I'm conflicted. Greg and I are not fans of the larger Boy Scout organization because of their discrimination against gay people and atheists, not to mention the gender exclusivity. Yet the idea of James being able to socialize with other boys while participating in the kinds of outdoorsy, crafty, practical activities that we try to promote for our boys anyway is appealing to me. And it's very appealing to him.

I just spent some time with the Google trying to find alternatives to Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts that are open to anyone, regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or whatever else, and such groups do exist (the Spiral Scouts and Campfire USA are two that looked good to me) but unfortunately there don't seem to be any chapters in our area.

So what to do? I guess I've already decided that despite its good qualities, Boy Scouting just doesn't measure up to all of my values. I just wish there were something to offer James in its place. I shouldn't worry, though; Greg was never a Boy Scout and he's the best outdoorsman I know. And he's already well on his way to teaching the boys how to enjoy and appreciate nature and the earth. So James may be disappointed by our refusal of Cub Scouting, but he won't be deprived. And, I suppose, with the additional things he'll learn from us about inclusion and acceptance, he'll be even better off.


10 October 2008

friday photos: fall is pretty edition

We are in the height of autumn here in western New York and the colors couldn't be prettier:

(The faces could be a little nicer, but the leaves are pretty.)

(Ignore the pinkish/purplish clouds please; our old camera is having color issues lately. But the foliage colors are pretty accurate.)

And let's not forget the pretty colors of fall produce, too:

(This is not a great photo, but this is some purple and golden cauliflower I found at the farmer's market, which tastes pretty much exactly like ordinary cauliflower, but is much prettier.)

Can I work the work "pretty" into this post one more time?

The weather forecast for this weekend is beautiful, and my mom will be visiting, so we are going apple picking and hopefully spending a lot of time outdoors enjoying a lovely autumn weekend. Should be pretty nice.


09 October 2008

best ever trip to the doctor's

I had an appointment this afternoon with a new doctor. He is an odd little man, and apparently he's very busy, because he had a brusque, impatient manner.

No chatting, no small talk, he didn't even ask what I was there for, but just launched into an examination. He listened to my heart first.

"Sounds a little crooked," he declared. "You need to eat more food."

"What kind of food?" I asked.

"Umm... like some pretzels or stuff," he said dismissively as he exchanged the stethoscope for another instrument. This one, I'm not sure what it was, he jammed into my ear and exclaimed incredulously, "It's 20,000!"

Then, another instrument, this one with explanation: "Now I'm going to look in your ear with this telephone." A brief glance into my ear through the instrument: "Whoa, it's pretty dark in there."

Next the good doctor asked me to photograph him with each of his instruments individually.

"Are you a real doctor?" I asked suspiciously.

"Mm-hmm," he answered, and that was all I could get out of him after that.

"Alright then," I said, "let me take a photo of your best doctor face."


08 October 2008

scene from the bus stop

Waiting at the bus stop with Neighbor Girl and Neighbor Girl's Dad:

James, to kid across the street: Hey, Captain! Hi, Captain!

Me: James, why do you call that kid Captain?

James: The first time I met him, he just told me his name was Captain.

Neighbor Girl's Dad: And Tennille?

James: I can kneel! [drops to knees on the sidewalk]

Me and NGD: [cannot contain laughter]

It's my least favorite part of day, morning, even when I don't have to drag myself out of bed and down to the bus stop in the chilly autumn air, twenty minutes earlier than the scheduled time due to the unpredictability of the new bus driver. (Of course, it's the days we're out there twenty minutes early, in the rain, when she comes nearly on time, and the days we only make it out ten or fifteen minutes early, we barely catch the bus.)

But early mornings are made infinitely more bearable when you spend the worst part of it with a thirty-year-old guy who cracks pop culture jokes and starts singing "Substitutiary Locomotion" when you mention the kids have just watched Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Then it's actually a pretty good way to start the day.


06 October 2008

monday photo

There's nothing like blowing bubbles to cure a case of the evil-Mama-is-making-me-wear-a-sweatshirt-outside blues:


30 September 2008

happy banned books week!

It is Banned Books Week once again, in which the American Library Association encourages people to Celebrate the Freedom to Read, and reminds America how important the right to free speech is. I'm personally a big supporter of free speech, and I like to use the lists of challenged books published by the ALA to find new books to read, because those which people seek to ban are often the most interesting and thought-provoking.

Here's the ALA's list of the most frequently challenged books of 2007, and the reasons why they were challenged:

1) “And Tango Makes Three,” by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
Reasons: Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group

2) The Chocolate War,” by Robert Cormier
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Violence

3) “Olive’s Ocean,” by Kevin Henkes
Reasons: Sexually Explicit and Offensive Language

4) “The Golden Compass,” by Philip Pullman
Reasons: Religious Viewpoint

5) “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” by Mark Twain
Reasons: Racism

6) “The Color Purple,” by Alice Walker
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language

7) "TTYL,” by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

8) "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” by Maya Angelou
Reasons: Sexually Explicit

9) “It’s Perfectly Normal,” by Robie Harris
Reasons: Sex Education, Sexually Explicit

10) "The Perks of Being A Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

Sadly, I've only read half of these (1, 2, 4, 6, 8), and my kids have only read one (which I wrote about not too long ago). Looks like I have some reading to do! The link above also notes that Toni Morrison (one of my favorite contemporary authors) is off the list this year, after previously having two of her books featured. Too bad! Maybe she'd better write another controversial book.

Incidentally, it was very recently that I read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings for the first time, and I found it to be a very moving and beautifully written book that I would recommend to anyone. The "sexually explicit content" (which, by the way, is not portrayed in a positive way) is one of the defining moments of Angelou's youth. Should she have ignored writing about something that affected her so deeply, that changed her in a very real way, that surely plenty of young girls can identify with, to avoid offending someone who's not satisfied to simply put down the book and walk away? That's what good literature is about in the first place: affecting the reader.

It really baffles me that some people decide that if they don't want to read a book, or want their children to read a book, that no one else should be allowed to read that book. I think literature is a great tool to use in learning to understand and process the world around us and the issues people face. It's hard for me to understand a point of view that would seek to prevent others from thinking and learning and challenging themselves.

Just for fun, here are some more links about challenged books from the ALA:
The Most Challenged Books of the 21st Century
The Top Ten Challenged Authors from 1990-2004
The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books from 1990-2000

I'm pleasantly surprised to see a handful of books on that third list that were taught or read aloud in my elementary and high schools.

Some of my favorites on these lists I'd also count as some of my favorite books of all time. The Harry Potter series, Bridge to Terabithia, House of the Spirits, A Wrinkle in Time, The Handmaid's Tale, Julie of the Wolves, Roald Dahl's books, Toni Morrison's books, The Giver, and Slaughterhouse Five are all excellent books that I've enjoyed. Some of them I loved as a child, and have found as an adult that they're still just as good (for example, I re-read Bridge to Terabithia a few months ago after finding a copy at a used bookstore, and I sobbed every bit as much at 26 as I did at 11).

So what are your favorite challenged books?


23 September 2008

what's for lunch

Yesterday James had the best lunch he's had since the school year started. This is because the siren song of saturated fat and empty calories is so alluring to my son that I agreed to let him choose one or two lunches per month to buy in the cafeteria, and yesterday was his first school lunch.

"It was awesome! I had a cheeseburger -- with extra ketchup! -- and rice balls with bread on the outside,** and an apple and applesauce!"

I have had a fear of school lunches ever since I read Fast Food Nation several years ago. It's been too long for me to accurately remember all of the details, but the basic reason school lunches are so terrible is because government subsidies make meat and dairy the cheapest foods for schools to buy, so lunches are very heavy on meat and dairy (and, consequently, fat) and not so big on fresh fruits and vegetables or whole grains. Looking at James' school's September lunch menu, I see entrees such as mozzarella sticks, nachos, hot dogs, cheeseburgers, several varieties of breaded and fried chicken, and pizza every Friday. Sure, they're serving canned fruit and vegetables every day, but somehow I doubt calling your sides "sunny corn" or "yummy carrots" adds much to their appeal.

On top of the questionable nutrition of school lunches, we also have a commitment to eating ethically-raised animal products on a very limited basis, so you can see why we're not keen on school lunches. We more than qualify for the free and reduced lunch program, but as cheap as I am I just can't bring myself to sacrifice my son's nutrition to save some money. So I've been trying to be creative with packing James' lunches so that he won't feel left out of the daily grease ingestion.

Let me tell you, there are some good resources out there for school lunch ideas. I've been taking inspiration from the idea of bento boxes, which are Japanese home-packed meals featuring a wide variety of foods, and often some cool artistic designs made from food. There are many photo sets on Flickr showing ways in which people have adapted the bento idea for other types of foods and cuisines. I've also been checking out Vegan Lunch Box (not that we're vegan, but I got the corresponding cookbook from the library and it has a lot of great ideas as well as some tasty-looking recipes) and LunchNugget, two blogs in which mamas document the tasty lunches they make for their offspring.

Now, I'm not nearly ambitious (or awake) enough at 7:30am to use cookie cutters on vegetables, or fashion octopuses out of hot dogs, and we don't have a real bento box in which to artistically arrange lunch. But I do find it really useful to have so many ideas to consider, so that my kid is not just taking a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and an apple to school every day (which, incidentally, is Evan's lunch nearly every day, since he does not yet know what he's missing). And James, luckily, is willing to let me experiment and find out how well a burrito or a leftover chicken drumstick holds up in the lunchbox for three hours.

So far he seems to be satisfied with a once or twice a month special school lunch. Let's hope I'm good enough at this creative lunch-packing to make that last the whole year.
**Tater tots. How happy am I that my kid doesn't know what a tater tot is?


19 September 2008

friday photos: self-portrait edition



16 September 2008

operation good parenting

This is a little embarrassing to admit, but I've never really spent very much time one-on-one with Evan. James and I had three and a half years to bond before his baby brother came along, but Evan has always had James around. For the brief periods when James wasn't around -- nursery school and half-day kindergarten -- Evan was usually napping. And truth be told, what with the terrible twos lasting the better part of two years, I spent a lot of Evan's toddlerhood trying to get away from him when I had the chance.

So it has been a process, re-learning how to spend entire days in the company of a three-year-old in general, and Evan in particular. He requires a lot more attention than I'm used to giving him, for one thing -- previously much of his need for attention and companionship was fulfilled by James. And I certainly knew that he was stubborn and single-minded, but I didn't expect that he'd reject most of my game or craft or reading ideas, instead demanding I do what he wants "or else I'll cry really loud!"

I often feel like a failure of a stay-at-home mom because I don't like to play with my children. I know that sounds awful, but it's slightly better with an explanation: I like playing board games, reading, doing puzzles, drawing -- quiet, mental things. I don't really like my children's two main play activities: bouncing off the walls, and inventing convoluted Lego/Star Wars/Indiana Jones/Pokemon/Ninja Turtles/Scooby Doo/Biker Mice From Mars* stories to act out with Lego people. My kids spend hours together playing these games, and Evan had a hard time realizing, once school started, that I just wasn't going to fill James' shoes in this regard. So we had to come up with something else.

Today I started Phase I of Operation Good Parenting: Munchkin Madness. Munchkin Madness is an arts and crafts program for preschoolers offered by the town recreational department, and it's so cheap it's almost free. Not only has Evan not spent much time with me, but he's also never really been around kids his own age, so I thought it would be a good experience for him.**

I'm not really used to other three-year-olds either, so it was kind of a surprise to me to find that Evan was the most outgoing and rambunctious of the 10 or 12 kids in attendance. He was the only munchkin who appeared remotely mad. But I was really pleased with the way he barreled into the room and immediately started playing, with no hint of shyness. He provided the soundtrack for the morning, too -- singing the Star Wars and Indiana Jones theme songs, of course, which drew a lot of laughter from the other mothers there.

He had a lot of fun drawing and painting ("Not just painting, but... finger painting!!") and playing with the other kids, and as young as he seems to me, my littlest baby, he has really turned into a little boy. A preschooler. And I'm starting to see an older, more mature personality develop -- a fearless, take-charge attitude.*** I have the same feeling now that I had when James started preschool: a sense of wonder and curiosity about the way in which my child is becoming a real individual person. I've never really taken the time to think about Evan's development without considering James' influence on him, so I'm interested to see how he changes this year without the constant presence of his brother.

Tomorrow, Phase II of Operation Good Parenting: Library Story Hour, in which we see whether my toddler preschooler can sit still for more than three minutes at a time.
*I don't even know what this one is.

**We've been putting off preschool for now, what with the uncertainty of when Greg will be finishing his program and getting a job.

***Last night at dinner we were talking about war, for some reason I can't recall right now, and I said that I thought I'd rather go to jail than fight in a war. Greg and James agreed with me but Evan set his face into a defiant little scowl and announced, "Not me! I want to fight in a war!" Let's hope the opportunity never comes up, because that's not something I can bear to think about at the moment.


12 September 2008

friday photos: the evan is funny edition

Let me tell you, when you go shopping at Target with a superhero in tow, you get a lot of attention.

And when that little superhero stops in the Lego aisle, he is so overcome with excitement that he is unable to speak the words "Star Wars" or "Indiana Jones" but instead fills the air with what would sound, to an uneducated observer, like a series of high-pitched tuneless wails, but is actually the respective theme songs for these two movies with which our little superhero is obsessed.

Here is a characteristic photo of Evan reading his favorite book, otherwise known as the Lego catalog. Every little superhero-in-training needs a thorough knowledge of current Lego sets.

You're lucky he's wearing pants in that photo. Evan's always scheming ways to avoid wearing pants. I may have mentioned his recent refusal to wear a pair of shorts on the grounds that they were too distinguished, and a couple of days ago he tried to convince me he couldn't wear pants because he would look too adorable in them. Kid needs to learn a thing or two about effective persuasion.


10 September 2008

the tale of the twenty-five dollar zucchini

You may remember that I was attempting to grow zucchini in a container on my back step this summer. Let me tell you the story of my zucchini plant and why my ambition to be a gardener will be a long, hard, uphill battle.

First I should explain that I come from a family of farmers. Well, okay, one farmer, my grandfather, and he had a dairy farm, but I do have many relatives who are good with plants, including my sisters and my mother. When I was young, after my grandfather retired from dairy farming, he kept a small garden in the front yard. I vividly remember eating carrots pulled straight from the ground with dirt still clinging to them, and gobbling garden-fresh green beans.* But the zucchini -- it was my grandfather's zucchinis that were truly spectacular. My sister would collect zucchinis as long as our forearms and twice as thick around, and bake loaves of her famous zucchini bread.

So I've been a big zucchini fan since childhood. For the last several years I've loaded up on the cheap, abundant, enormous zucchinis from the farmer's market and made zucchini bread, zucchini brownies, zucchini cupcakes, zucchini stir-fries, zucchini fritters, zucchini lasagna, and so on and so forth. I have, over the years, collected an impressive number of recipes in which zucchini is the featured ingredient. So imagine my happiness when a friend of mine called early in the summer and offered me some zucchini seedlings.

He brought over three little seedlings for me one night, and I went to the local gardening store a couple of days later to buy a gigantic planter and pounds and pounds of dirt in which to plant my little seedlings.

"Do you think this is going to be worth it?" Greg asked when I came home, my wallet twenty-five dollars lighter.

"Sure!" I said. "Zucchini plants produce ridiculous amounts of zucchini. They're unstoppable!" I had big plans, big hopes and dreams for these little seedlings. No more supporting the local farmers for me -- I was going to be a local farmer!

So I planted my three tiny little seedling, and one died almost instantly. That's okay, I thought, there are two more. That's more than enough. And my two remaining seedlings began to flourish. I was excited, watching the leaves grow bigger and broader, watching the big yellow flowers begin to develop. Then my first little zucchini fruit began to appear, and I took photos and posted about it on my blog, because, look! I'm growing food!

And that first little zucchini, once it got to be about four inches long, inexplicably began to rot and die. I scoured the internet for advice, and then, before I could self-diagnose and treat my plant, it grew another zucchini. This one grew into a beautiful shiny ten-inch vegetable before I plucked it and turned it into soup. Now there was no stopping my zucchini plant.

Perhaps I should stop here for a moment to note that part of the reason I was so excited to grow my own zucchini is because all those green-thumb genes I mentioned above are apparently recessive in me. I like plants, but really only do well with those that tolerate neglect. I might describe my thumb as a sort of sickly yellowish color with accents of brown on the edges -- which, incidentally, is the color the leaves of my zucchini plant began to turn shortly after I harvested that first perfect fruit.

I plucked off the dead leaves, I treated my plant for powdery mildew, I moved it to the front of the house where it could get more sunlight, and my efforts almost worked. The plant produced a few more zucchini, but every one rotted and died on the vine. The leaves recovered and are again a healthy, happy green, and there are still a couple of flowers, cheerful and sunshine-colored, but there are no more little zucchinis beginning to grow, and I suspect there will be no more this season.

So my first food-gardening experiment yielded one zucchini. One twenty-five dollar zucchini. Meanwhile, over the course of the summer when I was too impatient to wait for my own plant to mature, I continued buying zucchini from the market. Four for a dollar, for zucchinis as long as my children's limbs and twice as fat around.

I think next year I'll stick with the farmer's market.
*Every grandchild was affixed with an identifying label, growing up. My sisters were saddled with animals: one was known to love butterflies, and the other, elephants. Not that they actually loved these animals, but that was my grandmother's pronouncement, and once decided, these preferences were all but carved into stone. Christmas presents were very predictable. Me, I was known for loving green beans. Since green beans don't translate well into Christmas gifts, I ended up with random unpredictable items, such as dolphin figurines. I think I'd have liked the green beans better, personally.


08 September 2008

the problem of memory

A few days ago I bought blackberries at the market. Every time we've had blackberries this summer, Greg and I have lamented the fact that we weren't able to visit his family in Washington this summer because of how badly the blackberries in NY pale in comparison to their west coast counterparts. (There are, of course, a million other [more important] reasons we're sad about not having a summer vacation in WA this year, but we do miss those blackberries.)

"Man," one of us will say, "I wish we were in Washington; then we could have buckets of blackberries for free, instead of $3 a pint, and those would all be ripe!"

"Yeah," the other will say, "these aren't nearly as sweet, and they're so small! You can't even do anything with so few blackberries!"

And so forth.

A couple of days ago, though, Greg chimed in with, "Remember the blackberry french toast we had at Tom's one summer?" When he saw the blank look on my face, he continued, "Remember? We picked a whole bunch of blackberries at my grandparents' house, and brought them to Tom's, and we made french toast and put all the blackberries on top? That was the most amazing french toast!"

I managed something like, "Well, I've had a lot of good french toast in my life."

"Come on," Greg pressed, "remember, we got to Tom's apartment -- not the one he's in now, not the last one, but the one before that -- and no one was home, so I broke in through the bathroom window and landed in the bathtub? Remember that time? We had that blackberry french toast on the same trip."

"Oh, yeah," I said weakly, "I think I remember that."

Readers, I was lying. I didn't remember it, I don't remember it, and doesn't that sound like something one should remember? Blackberry french toast can conceivably be forgotten, but I feel like I ought to remember my boyfriend breaking into someone's house through the bathroom window and landing in the bathtub. But it's a big blank instead.

Ten years ago, I had an amazing memory. I was an excellent student who hardly needed to study because I remembered almost everything from my classes and textbooks. I could have told you the middle names and birthdays and phone numbers and addresses of every single one of my friends, and a bunch of people I wasn't friends with too. My best friend and I had an intricate system of code names for practically everyone we knew and there was no need to write it down because there was endless space in my head for this sort of knowledge.

Today I have no memory to speak of. (I attribute this change directly to parenthood, by the way, and the lack of sleep that comes with it.) I see movies and can barely remember the plots a day later. I have trouble returning phone calls and emails because I forget that people have called or written me. Every single time one of my best friends from high school calls me, I fail to recognize her voice even though I've known her for fifteen years.

So I keep endless lists of everything, from grocery lists and library books to daily to-do lists and lists of upcoming events. I keep a list of possible menu items for dinners and school lunches. I leave myself written reminders to answer emails or schedule appointments or pay bills. If it's not written down, I will forget it.

That's part of the reason I started a blog. To chronicle and to remember all of my experiences in raising two very interesting children. I read back through my blog archives recently and was surprised by how difficult some parts of my life were, and how funny other parts were. Time has dulled my memory to a vague series of highlights, and it's so easy to forget the details. I don't want to forget.

I don't want to forget the hilarious lullaby James composed for Evan, telling him to go to sleep because his shirt was so beautiful. I don't want to forget the time that Evan refused to put on his shorts because they were too distinguished. I don't want to forget the way that James picks up and pockets every interesting rock he comes across, "interesting" being a very subjective term.

I don't want to forget Evan asking me to pick him up this morning. "What for?" I asked. He smiled and said, "For everything! For hugs and kisses!" And then I picked him up and he snuggled into my chest and it instantly became one of those moments I never want to forget.

I can't trust my human memory that much anymore. But I can trust what I write here. So this post is a reminder to myself to write more, to capture these moments, these swiftly fleeting childhood days, and through recording and remembering, to appreciate them more.


07 September 2008

weekend recipe: zucchini chowder

The weekend recipes are back! You know, until I forget about them again. But I've got a fabulous recipe to share tonight, posting it with just a couple of hours left in the weekend, so it still counts as an official weekend recipe.

Allow me to introduce the Zucchini Garden Chowder. This recipe, like all of my recipes, originated somewhere else, somewhere I can no longer remember, and though I've personalized it a little, credit should be given to some genius cook out there. Not me. This has become my new favorite recipe for cool or rainy summer days. Most of these ingredients are still available at my farmer's market, so if you're as lucky as I am you may be able to try this out before summer officially comes to a close. It's pretty quick to throw together, it's healthy and filling and, of course, delicious.

2 medium zucchini, chopped (give or take -- the zucchinis at our market are so enormous that I've successfully used wildly differing amounts of zucchini in this recipe; I'd say typically 3-4 cups)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 teaspoon dried basil (or chop up a bunch of fresh basil)
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup flour
3 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock (or water)
1 teaspoon lemon juice (or a nice big squeeze from half a lemon, or leave it out, it's not crucial)
2-3 cups diced tomatoes (canned or fresh)
1/2 cup milk
2 cups corn kernels
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

In a stock pot over medium heat, melt butter, and saute zucchini, onion and basil until vegetables are tender. Stir in flour; season with salt and pepper to taste.

Stir in stock and lemon juice. Bring soup to a boil; reduce heat and cook for a couple of minutes while it thickens up a bit. Add tomatoes, milk and corn. Return soup to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes or until corn is tender. I usually stir a couple of times to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom.

At this point you can let it sit and keep warm for a while if you need to. Just before you're ready to eat, stir in the cheese until it's all melty and delicious-smelling.

This makes a huge batch of soup, and with some bread for dipping it makes a solid meal. My entire family actually eats this -- this is the meal that made Evan decide, very deliberately, to start liking tomatoes -- and even after a couple of us have had seconds, we have enough left over to throw in the freezer and save for another cool or rainy day. We have some in the freezer right now and I think I'm going to wait until the farmer's market starts to dry up for the winter and then break out this soup to bring back the tastes of summer.


05 September 2008

friday photos: first grade edition

This year I actually remembered to take the obligatory first day of school photo.

So far first grade is a success. We have not missed the bus yet, despite it coming 6-7 minutes earlier than scheduled (we had to run for it this morning, but we made it), James' lunch box is coming home nearly empty every day (so far no begging for cafeteria chicken nuggets or pizza), and James is in the same class as both his kindergarten best friend and his kindergarten girlfriend. This girlfriend, by the way (to tell an anecdote I could have blogged about in my missing month but didn't) is the girl he told over the phone a couple of weeks ago that he doesn't want to marry her, he just wants to have babies with her. Let's hope she didn't repeat that to her parents.

As always, James tells me virtually nothing about school, and the thousand questions I ask in the brief period between him getting off the bus and going outside to play are answered in monosyllables around mouthfuls of snack. Full-day school is a tiring adjustment for him, I think; at least, that's the excuse I'm giving him for his cranky attitude toward me when he gets home every day.

But we are all adjusting. Evan and I are learning how to fill our days without James around. I'm slowly remembering what it's like to hang out with one child at a time. We're all getting used to getting up and getting ready much earlier than usual. I think it's going to be a good year.


03 September 2008

the end of summer

It seems like just yesterday that I was food blogging about summer produce and banana cakes. Suddenly I look at the calendar and six weeks have flown by and my oldest child is a first-grader. Where does the time go?

To be honest, though, part of the reason I wasn't blogging is because we deliberately had a pretty slow summer. We stayed home a lot, played in the backyard, with weekly trips to our local library and occasional day trips to a beach or a park. We had a nice visit with my family, but sadly we were unable to visit Greg's family this summer. We played a lot of frisbee, went swimming a couple of times, went hiking only once, went camping not at all. There was very little that seemed worth posting on the blog, and we barely took any photos during the second half of summer anyway. Here are a couple of exceptions:

There have been some milestones, some personal accomplishments. Evan is in the beginning stages of learning to read, and he is potty trained! Surprisingly, with how difficult he's been about practically everything, his entire life, potty training turned out to be easy. Much easier than with James, even, and I think that's the first time I've been able to say that about the two of them. Once Evan decided to do it, he did it 100% and never looked back.

James started school today. First grade! For the first time, he will be gone all day long. He stepped onto the bus today -- in typical James fashion -- without a backwards glance, not even when his brother burst into tears because he couldn't get on the bus with the other neighborhood kids.

We had a happy summer -- a relaxed, laid-back, happy summer. But I'm starting to look forward to fall. And now that I'm actually writing again, I'm looking forward to a return to blogging as well.


14 July 2008

monday food blogging

I don't have much to write about lately, so I'm posting some photos of recent adventures in food.

1) Mulberries: I bought these at the market because I'd never had them or even seen them before. They're pretty, with a subtle, not-too-sweet taste, but they go bad quickly.

2) Monkey cake: I made this banana cake for a children's monkey party hosted by a friend of mine, and it was scrumptious. And cute. Ignore the sloppy decorating please.

3) Zucchini! I don't know whether I've mentioned it here yet, but I'm attempting to grow zucchini in a container on my back step this summer, and this afternoon I noticed my first tiny zucchini growing! This is the first food I've ever grown (if you don't count herbs, which I don't), so I'm very pleased with myself. And I'm very impatiently awaiting the day when I can pick this little zucchini and eat it right up.


10 July 2008

i knew i would jinx it somehow

We've started potty training Evan, and I've been holding off on writing about it here, because I knew that as soon as I proclaimed to the Internet that Evan was really doing well at potty training, he would stop doing well, because that's the way things go in my life.

It turns out I was wrong. He hit a speed bump in the potty training today, after all I did was think about writing about it. I don't know what I did in my last life to end up with such ridiculously bad luck in this one, but if we're at the point where my thoughts are jinxing things, I'm in trouble.

Anyway, he had been doing well. Really, really well. Greg and I had a big argument a week or two ago in which I firmly insisted that Evan was not ready for potty training, and then about five minutes after yelling at Greg and bursting into tears I realized that it was really me who was not ready. So I decided to suck it up and move forward with the potty training. It couldn't possibly increase the amount of bodily fluids in my life, and might actually reduce them a little bit, so what did I have to lose?

And he was good at it! And so very different from James. James didn't care what it felt like, what it smelled like, he was not going to interrupt his precious playtime to pee on the potty. Thankfully, with James, poo was a different story -- I'm pretty sure he never had a poopy accident after we started potty training. After the last three years, I shouldn't have been surprised that Evan would be the exact opposite.

He's good with the peeing. We let him run naked a lot, now that it's so hot, and he has no hesitations about running upstairs to pee in the potty. A few days ago we even attempted an outing in underpants -- I didn't even bring any diapers with us -- and we returned home from the library clean and dry. We've had a couple of minor accidents, but mostly he's been willing and even enthusiastic about peeing in the potty.

But. There is a but. We are having poo issues. One issue, really, and that is issue is this: my kid would rather poo in his pants -- underwear or diaper, doesn't matter -- than go on the potty. Today he was playing naked and started asking for a diaper. We both knew why. So I had him sit on the potty, and he peed, and then said he was done.

"Don't you need to poop?" I asked.


"Don't you want to try?"

More emphatically: "No."

"Please, can you try? Just try for a minute?"

"I don't want toooooo!"

"What's the matter? Why don't you want to try?"

"I don't want you to see it."

"Do you want me to leave? So you can do it by yourself?"


I start to walk out of the bathroom and notice I have an extra shadow. Before I can stop him he streaks into my bedroom and hops up on my bed.

"No! Don't poop on my bed!"

"Mom, I think I'm ready for a nap."

The little sneak. Since he naps in my bed, I don't let him nap diaperless.

I tried to push it a little longer. I said it wasn't time for a nap, so we went and played for a while, me hoping the whole time that he would give in and use the potty, and Evan determinedly holding it in.

Eventually it was nap time, and I diapered him and we snuggled together and he quickly fell asleep. And an hour and a half later from downstairs I heard little footsteps running out of my bedroom, and heard a door slam. Oh, but it's not what you think; he was not going to use the potty. My little sneak likes to fill his diaper in the privacy of his bedroom, which is exactly what he did.

So I brought him downstairs and changed him and tried to stay positive! And encouraging! And enthusiastic! About how next time he can use the potty! Then, as I do after most diaper changes, I asked him to throw the diaper away. All of a sudden we had a tantrum on our hands.

As an aside, Evan appears to have been taking tantrum lessons from a 12-year-old girl lately. More than once, after putting him in time out, we have heard him sob melodramatically, "No one wants me around!" and today's time out had him wailing about how he never gets to go anywhere. "Why exactly do you think you're in time out?" I asked him. He knew, but I guess he likes to throw dramatic non-sequiturs into his tantrums these days.

Anyway, back to the problem at hand, this poop thing. Anyone with some potty experience have any advice about this? He's so stubborn, I don't want to push it and make a huge issue out of it, but I would just like him to, you know, go in the potty. I'm ready to be done with the diapers already, and he's not helping! What's worse is that he has pooped in the potty, several times. He just seemed to suddenly develop this aversion and I don't have any ideas on what to do. Suggestions?


08 July 2008

too hot to write sentences

Assorted photos from a fun weekend: