31 January 2008

what do global warming, childhood obesity, and torture have in common?

The meat industry.

Since mentioning our move towards vegetarianism in my last post, I've come across several articles that have only reinforced my belief that this is the right decision (for my family, at least) to make right now. You should read them, you should really, really read them, especially if you're considering reducing meat consumption. Or maybe especially if you're not considering such a thing. What Americans don't know about where our food comes from is an astonishing amount.

In comments, Kim pointed me to this article from the NY Times, which is all about the environmental effects of factory farming, and it is very surprising. To keep things brief, I'll quote the bit that surprised me most: "...if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius." I already knew that factory farming contributed to oil dependency and global warming, but I didn't really know the scope of it before reading this article.

Next: I actually bookmarked this article a few months ago, intending to read it when I had the time, and then promptly forgetting about it. I finally read it a couple of days ago, and was surprised once again at how much we as consumers do not know about our food. The article, written by Michael Pollan of The Omnivore's Dilemma fame, is all about the government's farm subsidies, which doesn't sound that interesting, but is really eye-opening. It tells us why the cheapest foods are those which are unhealthiest, and why these foods make it into kids' school lunches. It also talks about the global effect of these outdated policies. It's a copmlicated web of issues, but Pollan does an admirable job of weaving them all together.

Last: I came across this article this morning, about the sickening forms of abuse and even torture that go on in slaughterhouses. Horrifying things were captured on video by an undercover animal welfare investigator. I didn't even try to watch the video; just reading the descriptions was enough to turn my stomach.

So vegetarianism has moved beyond a simple animal welfare issue to one that encompasses all kinds of moral and ethical concerns. And even if I weren't moved by those concerns, the animal abuse practices along with the photos from the first article I linked to make me pretty certain that I don't want to eat meat that's been lying around in its own excrement, confined in close quarters that seem ideal for the spread of bacteria and disease. It's atrocious.

To quote once more from the first NYT article:

Animal welfare may not yet be a major concern, but as the horrors of raising meat in confinement become known, more animal lovers may start to react. And would the world not be a better place were some of the grain we use to grow meat directed instead to feed our fellow human beings?


If price spikes don’t change eating habits, perhaps the combination of deforestation, pollution, climate change, starvation, heart disease and animal cruelty will gradually encourage the simple daily act of eating more plants and fewer animals.


29 January 2008


Things have been busy around here, and I haven't been interested in blogging lately, for no particular reason, but I thought I should post a brief update to let you all know we're still alive. Because I'm not feeling up to writing real paragraphs and stuff (mentally, that is), I will do this list-style, because I'm fond of lists.

1. I'll start with the bad news. Our car was hit, in the parking lot right in front of our house, a few nights ago. Our bumper is smashed and mysteriously, none of the neighbors seems to know anything. So later this week we have to take it in to get fixed and get a rental car for a day or so. The boys were excited because we had to report it as a hit-and-run, and a police officer came to our house!! Thrilling.

2. Other bad parking lot news: in the last couple of weeks, we know of one car that was broken into and another which had its windows smashed by a group of unruly fellows. The window smashing actually bothered me less, because from all appearances that was a personal attack, not random, but still, we're becoming less enchanted with the neighborhood. To put it mildly.

3. In good news, we took the kids bowling for the first time this weekend. We went with some friends of our who had some coupons, and of course I didn't take any pictures, why would I do that, but believe me, it was adorable. Evan and our friends' daughter got to use a ramp that's normally reserved for people in wheelchairs -- you just set your ball on top and push it down. This, along with bumpers on the kids' lane, meant that the two littler kids beat the two older kids who actually had to roll the ball down the lane themselves. We heard just a little complaining about the injustice of one being expected to actually bowl at a bowling alley. (And by "a little" I mean "constant".) But I think they all had fun anyway.

4. Big lifestyle changes are afoot: we are transitioning to a mostly vegetarian diet. We've been heading that way slowly for some time, but I really accelerated it last week. Maybe I'll write a whole post on this sometime, but I'm feeling more and more strongly, for environmental reasons, that we need to stop supporting the corporate farm industry. This also means more local and organic foods, too. Everyone so far is dealing with the change pretty well -- we were never big meat eaters to begin with -- so hopefully this will be a good change for us in the long run. Maybe when Greg gets a real job and we have more money, we'll buy organic, local meats too. But for now, lentils and beans and tofu are cheaper than most meats anyway.

5. I think that's all. Nothing terribly exciting, but I felt like I was being neglectful of the blog, so there we are.


21 January 2008

racism for six-year-olds

James had school off today, and he's old enough now to pay attention to holidays and to ask questions about why we celebrate them.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a hard one to explain to a six-year-old. He knew of the idea of slavery from a conversation we had about Lincoln a while ago, but how do you explain prejudice, segregation, discrimination, and institutional racism to a child who has no concept of race? He's had classmates and neighbors of all different ethnicities. We have interracial marriages on both sides of my family, so he has cousins with varying skin tones too. He's used to seeing people of different colors in all kinds of settings. Racism -- even the very idea of difference -- has never come up. It's never needed to come up.

So how do you introduce a child to the injustices of the world? How do you explain the importance of King's work, of his life, without exposing the uglier side of humanity? I don't suppose you can, but it's a hard thing to have to tell a child. It's harder still to know that despite King's efforts, there is still a racial divide in America, that it is a really big deal that one of the frontrunners for the presidential race is a black man, that though we don't notice color, there are still so many people who do.

I suppose I should be expressing my gratitude to King, and everyone else who's fought the struggle for civil rights, that my son doesn't know the concept of race in the first place. Hopefully for James and his generation, race will continue to decrease in significance. Maybe someday we will achieve King's dream, and James can tell his children or grandchildren about racism not as something that still permeates society, but as just another chapter in the history books.


17 January 2008

2007: a year in books

You may have noticed that I didn't do any sort of New Year's post. That's because I don't do resolutions, and I have a pretty terrible memory, so my year is best summed up by telling you to look through my blog archives. There's little I could add to that.

The one thing I actually do on a yearly basis, for the last few years anyway though only once so far on the blog), is to keep a running list of the books I've read. This helps me, first of all, remember what I've read and what I haven't, because some books are so utterly forgettable, or easily confused with other books, that I have a hard time keeping track. It also helps me when it comes to recommending books to people. If you ask me to recommend a book off the top of my head, I'd be hard pressed to come up with more than one or two. But with a list at hand I'm full of recommendations. Also, it's fun to remember when I read certain things, like to recall that the summer of 2003 was my summer of Vonnegut, or that the main reason I've read so many trashy suspnse novels is because I needed something diverting after I had Evan in 2005. Thus, my lists.

I'm a little late posting this, but it's still January, so I think that's good enough. Below the fold you'll find the complete 2007 list, with awards and comments following.

1. Foucault’s Pendulum – Umberto Eco
2. King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa – Adam Hochschild
3. Special Topics in Calamity Physics – Marisha Pessl
4. Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right – Al Franken
5. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why – Bart Ehrman
6. Between Mothers and Sons: Women Writers Talk About Having Sons and Raising Men – edited by Patricia Stevens
7. Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen – Julie Powell
8. A Spot of Bother – Mark Haddon
9. The Polysyllabic Spree – Nick Hornby
10. The House of the Spirits – Isabel Allende
11. Beloved – Toni Morrison
12. Kidnapped – Robert Louis Stevenson
13. Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami
14. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
15. Thirteen Moons – Charles Frazier
16. The Human Comedy – William Saroyan
17. Dune – Frank Herbert
18. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – JK Rowling
19. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – JK Rowling
20. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – JK Rowling
21. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – JK Rowling
22. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – JK Rowling
23. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – JK Rowling
24. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – JK Rowling
25. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
26. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami
27. Into The Forest – Jean Hegland
28. The Sirens of Titan – Kurt Vonnegut
29. Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere With Migratory Birds – Scott Weidensaul
30. What is the What – Dave Eggers
31. Buy, Buy Baby: How Consumer Culture Manipulates Parents and Harms Young Minds – Susan Gregory Thomas

It was an eclectic year. I developed a taste for Haruki Murakami (and hope to read more of his work this year), read a few classics I'd missed over the years, learned a little about nature and war and history, and said goodbye to the world of Harry Potter in one final engrossing trip through the boy wizard's entire journey. Oof, that sounded cheesy, but I was sad to see the series end, though pleased with the way it was done.

It's hard to choose a favorite this year. I loved a lot of these. So I'm going to get creative with my awards categories to try and encompass the books I loved best.

Favorite Classic Fiction: Okay, it may be a stretch to call a novel from the '50s "classic", but it is one of those important books that's constantly referenced and that everyone's supposed to know: Lolita. It was disturbing, to be sure, but it was so well-written that I had trouble putting it down. It's something I'll have to re-read someday to really be able to solidify my thoughts on it, but there's a reason this novel is so well-known, and I'd like to believe it's not the subject matter.

Favorite Contemporary Fiction: A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, also a worthy read. I read this so long ago (almost a whole year!) that I'm having trouble recalling the specifics, but it left such a good impression on me that I'm willing to recommend it regarless of not being able to remember the details. Just trust me; Haddon is good.

Favorite Historical Fiction: Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier. The Washington Post says: "Reading Frazier is like sitting by the cracker barrel for hour after hour and listening to an amiable but impossibly gassy guy who talks real slow, says "I reckon" a whole lot and never shuts up." I happen to like that in a book, or, at least, in this book, which I suppose is the only one I've ever read that fits that description. It's a sprawling novel that covers much of the 19th century, telling one (white) man's story of life among the Cherokee, the Trail of Tears, the Civil War, and of course, a love story too.

Favorite Foreign Fiction: Since I already mentioned above that I've become a Murakami fan, I'll give this award to The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, which is kind of a fantastical historical tale of several generations of a South American family. It's kind of a saga, more than just a mere story. Beautiful, engaging, wonderful book.

Favorite Science Fiction: Dune, by Frank Herbert. I can't believe I took so long to get around to reading this book. It's one of the best sci-fi novels I've read, I think: power struggles and prophecy and deceit and fantasy, all kinds of interesting things going on here. Now I just have to get around to seeing the movie.

Most Fun Fiction: Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl. This is not the sort of book I would have chosen on my own, but one of my friends selected it for our book club and I was surprised by how clever and smart it was. It reads kind of like a young adult murder-mystery sort of thing, but it's a more interesting story than those usually turn out to be, it's populated by interesting characters (especially the young heroine, who is the sort of character a girl like me wishes she could have been at that age), and it's chock-full of literary references, some obvious and some more obscure, which were like little Easter eggs hidden throughout the book -- always a treat to come across one.

Most Important Fiction: What is the What, by Dave Eggers. I'd even go so far as to call this the overall best book I read this year, because of how moving and affecting it is. It's based on the real-life story of the Lost Boys of Sudan, thousands of boys displaced and orphaned by seemingly never-ending war in Africa. Read more about both the book and the Lost Boys here.

(What can I say; it was a good year for fiction.)

Favorite non-fiction: King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild. Though a quick read, it's not exactly an easy read: it's an account of the destruction and abuses inflicted on the Congo and the Africans who lived there when King Leopold of Belgium decided to colonize. As someone who knew very little of African history prior to reading this book, it was kind of a horrific introduction, but at the same time fascinating.

Runner up: Living on the Wind by Scott Weidensaul. There's not much to say about this book -- it's about bird migration, essentially, with some talk of conservation as well. I found it really, really interesting, but I'm aware that most people wouldn't, not for 400 pages anyway. But I've read a few others of Weidensaul's books, and though obviously very knowledgeable and experienced in bird study, he has a talent for writing about it in a very accessible way.

So that's my year in books. I've already got a lot on my plate for 2008: the Jane Austen books, of course, and I'm slowly working on a book about Lincoln's presidency as well.

What good books have you read lately? Any recommendations? Or any interesting books on your to-read list?


16 January 2008

i'm not the only one

If you don't know me in real life, if you only know me through the blog, you probably don't know that I'm not married. I'm in a committed relationship with the father of my children, but we are not married and we have no plans to marry anytime soon.

"Maybe someday," is what we say to people who ask if we're ever going to get married. And people do ask -- not so much anymore, but at first, when I was pregnant and when James was a baby, we heard it a lot. Actually, when I first started telling people I was pregnant with James, one of my co-workers at the time asked me if I'd set a date. I was confused -- I was about to tell her that it's the baby who decides when it's time to come out, not the mother -- when I realized she was asking when Greg and I were getting married. That was when it became clear to me that marriage is not just a life choice you make, but for many people, especially when pregnancy is involved, it is an expectation. People have asked us if we've ever thought about marriage -- of course we have! How could we avoid it in a culture like ours?

For a number of reasons, Greg and I have made a conscious decision not to marry. This surprises a lot of people. We've put a lot of thought and discussion into it, though, and it's not something we're interested in for the time being. We've got no religious inclinations, no pressing financial or legal reasons, and no money to spend on a wedding even if we were interested in marriage. We already have a very public symbol of our feelings for each other and our commitment to each other -- our two children. Most people we meet assume we're married, and I don't bother to correct the assumption most of the time, because what difference would it make? The only thing that differentiates us from married couples is a little piece of paper, which neither of us care about.

It wasn't an easy decision to come to -- there was a while where I really did think I wanted to get married, until I examined my motives and found, at the root of my desire, mostly social pressures and expectations. And there have certainly been times where I've felt condescended to, looked down on, or as if my relationship wasn't legitimate in the eyes of some others simply because I don't have a ring on my finger. After seven years, though, I've gotten used to it and am rarely bothered by it.

I bring all of this up because I read an essay in Newsweek that made me cheer a little bit on the inside. It isn't often that one finds a public, carefully thought-out, well-written defense of choosing not to be married. The author writes a lot of things that ring true to me:

We are committed to spending our future together, pursuing our dreams and facing life's challenges in partnership.

Yet I do not need a piece of paper from the state to strengthen my commitment to Jeff. I do not believe in a religion that says romantic, committed love is moral only if couples pledge joint allegiance to God.

I don't need a white dress to feel pretty, and I have no desire to pretend I'm virginal. I don't need to have Jeff propose to me as if he's chosen me. I don't need a ring as a daily reminder to myself or others that I am loved. And I don't need Jeff to say publicly that he loves me, because he says it privately, not just in words but in daily actions.

Our married friends say you can make a wedding—and a marriage—what you want, but that is not true. It's a specific institution with defining principles and values. If it weren't, there wouldn't be so-called marriage-protection laws in the majority of this country's states.

And for me, that's the bottom line when I consider cashing in on all the benefits our heterosexual relationship is entitled to. My gay friends can't do that. I don't want to send a message to anyone, including my daughter—who may someday choose a same-sex life partner—that the value of her relationships can be determined by law and the affirmation of others.

I wouldn't say that marriage equality -- or, currently, inequality, I should say -- is "the bottom line" for me or for Greg, but that's certainly been a consideration in our thoughts about marriage too.

It was just so refreshing to read some of my own thoughts written by someone else. Greg and I are not the only people out there who feel this way about marriage, despite often feeling as if we're the only ones. Marriage is not a priority for us -- we are actively building our lives and raising our children together without pausing for a ceremony to recognize that, and that's not a common sentiment, nor one that many people readily accept.

And -- I realize that marriage means much more than this to many people. I realize that it has personal importance and tangible benefits for lots and lots of people. I do think it has its problems as a legal institution, but this is not to say I'll never get married. Maybe circumstances will change and we'll decide it's better to be married than not -- who knows. But please, if you're thinking about leaving a comment about how wonderful marriage is, and/or how many benefits it has, and/or why I should get married -- I've heard it. In seven years I've heard it all, and I've not yet been convinced to get married right this minute, so save your energy. I'm happy with my choice.


15 January 2008

i can't write a post today

We were beginning to think that Evan was starting to outgrow the terrible twos. The tantrums were becoming fewer, or at least they were getting easier to handle. He was learning to share, and play nicely with his brother. He was growing up a little, in subtle ways. Or so we thought.

It turns out that the terrible twos are like a resilient virus or bacteria. We thought we were eradicating the problem, but instead, it simply mutated into another form, and we now have to deal with it all over again. The tantrums are disappearing, yes, but in their place are the stubborn, obstinant protestations of a toddler who wants everything to be his way.

His newest thing is, "I can't." "I can't say please," whenever he is told to ask nicely. "I can't go to bed," whenever we catch him running around upstairs after bedtime. "I can't eat," when faced with food he doesn't like, though sometimes this is said as he eats whatever it is anyway. "I can't talk" is pretty self-explanatory. "I can't wear pants." That's the one I hear the most. And I am channelling Inigo Montoya as I tell him, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

In fact, a perfect example of this phenomenon happened just now, while I was trying to write. Evan threw a video game of James' on the floor. Twenty minutes later, after two time-outs, lots of tears, and plenty of motherly coaxing, Evan blurted out, in a pained voice, "I'm sorry for throwing your video game!" And in a burst of tears, ran to me, crying, "I can't say it anymore! I can't say it!"

So you see, I can't write a post today -- I have too much to do with managing a stubborn toddler; I'm afraid it will be utterly impossible.


14 January 2008

even better than mere survival

Not only did we survive the birthday party, we actually had a really fun time. All of us. Five 5 and 6-year-olds in one room (plus one 2.5-year-old who wishes he was six), crammed full of sugar, do not necessarily destroy one's sanity and will to live, as I had feared. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that three of the other kids' parents stayed for the party, perhaps I was more prepared after my harrowing birthday party experience last year, perhaps the children have actually grown up and matured a little bit. Whatever the reason, we had an awesome birthday party.

But would you like to know the real key to keeping kindergarteners (and a toddler) busy and happy?


Balloons! Simple, right? If you don't mind a little good-natured shouting and running, balloons are the best birthday party game I've ever seen. Here I had planned all kinds of fun games and activities, and it turns out all we needed were fifteen or twenty balloons. Also a good idea -- a big box to put the balloons in. This way the children have a goal: either get all the balloons and hide them in a box, or, once the grown-ups have imprisoned the balloons in the box, you can liberate those balloons and beat the other children with them. Fun for all!

And of course, I can't write a birthday party post without mentioning the cake, because if you've ever read this blog, you are aware that I am a fan of cakes, both baking and eating them. It was a vegan (to accomodate one of the party guests) vanilla (to accomodate James' predictable, unchanging preference) cake with vanilla icing, and James requested a big cake with the Transformers symbol on it -- the Autobot symbol, to be precise, if you care about such things. I never used to care about such things, but as the mother of a six-year-old boy, I now have no choice but to know these things whether I care or not.

Here is the cake, a product of intense labor from both Greg and me (I baked, Greg designed, and we both very carefully, delicately, decorated).

So. I was pleasantly surprised by all of this birthday party stuff this year. Here's hoping it gets better and better every year.


11 January 2008

friday photos: vacation edition

I wrote a bit about our vacation earlier this week, and today I've finally got some photos. Check below the fold for some cuteness and silliness.

We stopped at a rock shop, and saw the biggest geode any of us had ever seen. James could crawl inside this thing. And the photo doesn't show it well, but it's coated in amethyst crystals, with the exception of that huge white crystal (well, grey in the photo) that you can see jutting out in the middle there:

James riding his old pal Snickers:

And Evan, riding Snickers for the first time:

James and Evan posing under a whale tail outside the Pacific Science Center:

And two photos of me and Greg, dressed up and silly on New Year's Eve:

In other news, we're having a birthday party for James this weekend. If my sanity makes it through intact, I'll be back after the weekend.


10 January 2008


I pride myself on being a literary type. I'm a book snob, I'm a book nerd, I want to be a librarian when I grow up because I just like to be in the presence of books so much. I took several college English courses, and thought briefly of being an English major. I read for fun! (A trait that is becoming more and more rare, it seems.) I even read poetry.

Yet, with all those qualifications, I have to confess that I've never read a Jane Austen book. I've not even read a single sentence of a Jane Austen book. I've never even seen a movie made from one of her books, so I can't even pretend I've read her. Everyone I know who has read her has told me I'd love her. I know I would. It's hard to really call myself a book person with this hanging over my head. I just haven't gotten around to it yet.

But! I finally have the motivation to start. I found out a while ago that PBS, starting this Sunday, is going to be showing movie adaptations of all of Jane Austen's books on Masterpiece Theater. So I've decided to read all of her books along with seeing the movies. I'm sure I won't be able to keep up with the tv schedule, but darn it, I'm going to try. And hopefully I will succeed, and remove the biggest piece of nagging literary guilt from my brain. Wish me luck.


08 January 2008

six years

Dear James,

Today you are six years old. It seems that every year, birthdays get more and more exciting. (I hate to tell you that that feeling won't last forever, so enjoy it while you can.) You are a boy who is always full of ideas, and you've been planning this birthday very carefully, from composing lengthy lists of presents you hope to get, to requesting blueberry-banana pancakes for breakfast, to drawing diagrams of what kind of birthday cake I should make for you this weekend.

It's hard to sum you up this year. The change from 5 to 6 has been less drastic than any other year before this one. The best way I can describe it is simply to say you've grown up. I know how vague that sounds, but it's accurate. You've grown taller (though still as skinny as ever -- I bet you could still wear your brother's pants), you've matured, you're more confident and patient, you've progressed academically and emotionally. You are the easy one -- in many ways I feel as though our parenting work is mostly done, like even if all we did for the next 12 years was feed you and clothe you, you'd still be your bright, cheerful, energetic, clever self. This is especially true because of your ever-growing independence.

I wasn't sure you could get more independent, but I shouldn't be surprised. From the minute you were mobile you were trying to do everything yourself. Now you wake up in the morning and fix yourself a bowl of cereal for breakfast. You dress yourself, you make your bed, you do the chores I ask you to do. You mostly entertain yourself. You read to yourself. You play nicely with your brother. Since your shoes are velcro, it seems you need your parents for almost nothing on a daily basis. I can live with this.

One of my favorite things about this year is that you've grown into good taste in music. How happy am I now that you're singing the Ramones around the house instead of Dora songs? The happiness can't be measured. And you, who I worried wouldn't really love music because you didn't, for a long time, enjoy music at all, whether it was people singing or music being played, but you've proven that my fears were unfounded. It was so much fun seeing you rock out when we played Rock Band over Christmas vacation, seeing you have so much fun just singing.

Over the last year, your brother has become one of your best friends. He follows your lead, and from you he has learned to develop an amazing imagination. The two of you invent all kinds of pretend games, in which you are Luke and Leia, or Ninja Turtles, or Pokemon trainers. You build lego spaceships and lego cars and lego who-knows-what together. You're a good role model for him -- I hope the two of you will always be so close.

I could go on, and on, and on, about what a wonderful boy you are, and how lucky we are to have you in our family. You are still flaky -- you misplace things all the time, and you still spend plenty of time in your own little universe, where sometimes we have a hard time reaching you when we need you. Maybe I'm biased, considering where you got these habits from, but I think they're endearing most of the time.

Happy birthday, sweet baby James. May this be only one of many, many happy years ahead of you.


07 January 2008

notes from vacation

Oh, how I wish life could always be a vacation. Sleeping late, no housework, lots of video games, eating out, and of course, spending lots of time with family and friends who you don't see nearly often enough.

Some highlights, in no particular order:

Rock Band: I would estimate that we spent about 34 zillion hours playing Rock Band. I became an accomplished drummer, Greg rocked out on the bass, and James sang lead vocals, quickly becoming an expert on a couple of Ramones songs, which he made us play at least 75 times a day.

Horses: James and Evan both got to ride one of Grandma Kathy's horses, as well as visit with all of the horses (and cows, and a donkey) out at the farm. It was Evan's first time riding, and he did pretty well. He was incredibly excited until he realized he had to wear a helmet, so most of his ride was spent trying to take his helmet off.

Christmas: I don't know why I didn't put this first. We had a really nice Christmas with Greg's family. It's so nice that all of his siblings are able to come spend Christmas at their parents' house -- it's always full and busy, the way Christmas should be. I always miss my own family, of course, but it helps a bit to be part of another family.

The boys were showered in gifts, and loved each and every one. The favorites?

1) Nintendo DS: Greg's brother handed his down to us, and gave us a few games. It would be a huge understatement to say we all totally love it. It's getting a lot of use so far. James asked for one for Christmas, and I kind of didn't want one, because I knew we would all want to use it a lot, but I'm not really complaining.

2) Mythical beasts: Greg's brother also got the boys a books and game about mythical creatures, which came with little figures of the creatures, and they are so into them. They spent a lot of time over vacation telling people about Chupacabra (imagine a two-year-old saying that word -- so cute) and now that we're home they've been playing with them a lot. This morning they were fighting over the Hydra -- something I never expected my children to fight over.

Movies: We saw many movies over the course of two weeks. I was psyched to get the movie Labyrinth as a gift, and doubly pleased to see how well it holds up after twenty years. I saw a few movies I would never have watched if it weren't for Greg (namely, Transformers -- the new one, though we now own both movies -- and Alien vs. Predator: Requiem) and I can honestly say I did not hate either of them. Who woulda thought. We also saw King Kong again (the Peter Jackson version), which I love, and which made me cry a little. Again.

The best movie we saw would have to be The Maze, a rare 3-D mystery/suspense movie from 1953, which we did not watch in 3-D, but which we enjoyed anyway. It's a pretty conventional film -- a little too slow, even -- until the end. The end is the real reason to watch this movie. It turns the film from something unremarkable into one of the greatest so-bad-it's-good movies I've ever seen.

New Year's: We went to a fabulous New Year's party at the home of one of Greg's brother's friends, without children, and we dressed up in silly costumes, played hours and hours of Rock Band, relaxed in a hot tub, played some pool, played a little Mario Kart, and had our fortunes told by a mysterious gypsy woman. We finally crawled into bed at 7am, totally satisfied. Oh, and I also took part in the traditional Norwegian custom of eating pickled herring for good luck in the new year. Greg's family loves pickled herring, and they make me eat some every year. The best I can say is that it hasn't killed me. Yet.

Evan boycotted pants during this vacation. He refuses to wear "wiggly" pants. We have yet to figure out what makes pants wiggly, but it seems to be a fairly common problem, since every pair of pants Evan owns is now considered wiggly.

And of course, it was so nice to see Greg's family again. Since we couldn't make it out to visit over the summer, we hadn't seen them in a year, which is really way too long. It was a lot of fun getting to hang out with all of them again.

I'm sure I'm forgetting some things, but that's a brief rundown. Pictures will be posted eventually. And now that we're home, (semi) regular blogging will resume.