Saturday, December 29, 2007

Aah, it all becomes clear now...

From the NYTimes about the unseen, long-term effects of binge-drinking (italics are mine):

On a microscopic level, Dr. Crews has shown that heavy binge-drinking in rats diminishes the genesis of nerve cells, shrinks the development of the branchlike connections between brain cells and contributes to neuronal cell death. The binges activate an inflammatory response in rat brains rather than a pure regrowth of normal neuronal cells. Even after longstanding sobriety this inflammatory response translates into a tendency to stay the course, a diminished capacity for relearning and maladaptive decision-making.
I wonder who this makes me think of... hmmm....

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

More Heave-Ho, Less Ho-Ho

natalie dee

Since I can't bear to dissect the fact that I spent a good 6 hours of today working on presents for others (I knitted, bought, wrapped, packaged, carded, addressed and mailed... for SIX stinkin' hours!), I will supply you with some joyful distraction and some things that have given me a chuckle in the past few days.

1) This web site for snow blowers. I got a good giggle out of the copy on this one. "The snow will shiver in fear, not you!" Uh-huh. Go out there and show that snow who's boss. Er... or just finish clearing the path, you over-testosteroned dolt-freak!

2) Oh. My. God. Nothing says Christmas cheer like this. Make sure to watch the video clip. Hey, don't blame me. I wasn't out there looking for that special gift for the hunting enthusiast in my life!

3) "What they did to us was hard-core. Man, was that scene rough." A review of the earliest episodes of Sesame Street, now available on DVD. Elmo is DEFINITELY prozacky. Read on.

4) Slimey Worm's MySpace page. Yup. A 38-year-old male living in Oscar's Trash Can. Notice the "friends"... Some people have way too much time on their hands! (Though if you ever see a copy of the book "Slimey to the Moon" snag it for me... I'll pay you back!) ;)

5) This gal kicks some major butt (see above comic)

Happy Holidays, y'all!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Too fine a point

Not sure where to start this, so I guess I'll start with the drive. Tonight, amidst the falling snow, I left my house, husband tucking present-crazed child into bed, mother and stepfather watching television in the basement. At almost 9:00 on a Thursday evening with two inches down in the last hours upon the almost foot of snow on the ground, did I really need to be out driving?

A girlfriend of mine is out of town for a few days and I promised her that I'd go by her house and pick up her mail and any packages that might have been dropped there. In fact, even when she goes out of town for only a couple of days, I always volunteer to do it. And I don't mind doing it. Somehow, perhaps, by visiting her house while she's gone I feel like I'm tending the friendship or visiting just a little.

Anyhow, as I drove into her neighborhood, I noticed a young man walking on the other side of the road. I was struck by such jealousy (though jealousy isn't the word)-- I wanted to be him. Suddenly I could read this stranger's gait and I knew: He's young, he's working something out as he slices through the snow. Sometimes you just need to escape into an outside where you can march the stupidity out of yourself and your thinking.

As I pulled into my friend's driveway, I noticed three hulking boxes which looked like elephants trying t0 "hide" behind the fake doric columns of her front porch. They looked so insipid! And somehow so sweet as well, like they were trying so hard.

I feel like that often myself, especially around my son. I am so filled with love for him, I could just be him. Then I remove myself and say this is the adult voice I use and the sensible thing I say to make sure you're safe and know boundaries all the while thinking Ha! If he only knew how we are all just pretending.

I loaded the awkward boxes into the back of my car, quickly rearranging my daily detritus (grocery freezer bag, pair of son's rubber frog boots only worn inside the house) and tossing them on top. Haphazard, but out of the snow. Not so silly and alone on the porch at least.

On the way back, I started to drive even more slowly, more deliberately. And I'm not sure it was out of a sense of safety, but rather, as though my wheels were working through something for me. I realized that I was listening to a classical piece that siphened me into it, and everything I saw was an extension of that listening, that movement of the car, the music. The snow is piled in drifts reflecting tangerine-colored light from the streetlights. All somehow so cozy and perfect and piled it seemed out of a movie, or a thought about winter, not actual winter itself.

Passing all the strung-up lights, the white deer were silhouetted and illuminated at once as they grazed upon the snow-wrapped yards. Dwarf pines swathed in frenetic dancing lights looked like little overdressed chihuahuas, blinking to themselves in that nervous way. All this man-made love and the snow arranging themselves together, working it out.

And that, perhaps, is exactly it. Working it out is beautiful and human and sometimes forced. And sometimes loveliness and grace just happens to settle up upon it-- upon the intention and the ritual and the routes of dailiness. Grace upon work. Work in the hopes of grace.

Monday, December 03, 2007

More! More! More!

There's a point at the end of Sesame Street where Slimy the Worm, bedecked in a sleeping cap (when did we stop using those?) implores to Oscar the Grouch: "Read more, read more! Read more Trash!" Oscar replies, "N0, Slimy. That was enough excitement for such a small worm. We'll read more tomorrow!"

Now when my son starts whining at us for something (yes, much of the time, books, but other stuff, too), we call him Slimy. "More, more, more!" we croon. It always makes him laugh. Now he's starting to use this mantra as well, and his two-year-old approximation of Slimy's voice, whenever he whines. Somehow it makes the whining more fun for both of us.

Now that it's getting dark out so early, we are often driving after dark, when Christmas lights are in their full bloom. He's in the back yelling, "More Christmas lights! More lights!" and I have to point them out to him as we pass. To tell the truth, I like looking at the lights, too. It's one of the least conflicted feelings I have about the season which is upon us.


I was somewhat dumbfounded by this rant on by Christopher Hitchens, the notorious God-hater. I mean, I can understand the instinct to want strict separation of church and state. No government-sponsored Christmas trees or holiday programs or whatnot. I, personally, am not offended by them, but do acknowledge the criticism that they can be seen as endorsement of one religion over another.

Still, this guy really strikes me as joyless. And that's about the harshest thing I can say about anyone. He seems like a miserable human being. And his arguments, while some of them are not altogether without merit, are mirthless and unhuman.

Well, now he's taking potshots at Hanukkah. Not that I should be surprised, but I am taken aback. I wonder if it's because in general, I think public criticism of anything Jewish or even mildly Jewish is usually pounced upon and torn apart by the media. And while I think that some of that instinct is perhaps a little overdone (especially when it comes to legitimate criticism of Israeli policies or politics), I am also adamantly opposed to protecting hate speech. Period. That's why I could never join the ACLU.

Now, mind you, I know that this opinion is a controversial one. "Where do you draw the line?" people ask. Truth is, I'm not sure. But a line does have to be drawn somewhere for the health of our society, and it behooves us to think about this issue and debate it.

Anyhow, whether or not this rant constitutes hate speech (which I think it doesn't), it is still shocking and disconcerting. After reading it I felt horrible. Just horrible. Partially because I felt that he used an arithmetic which is not humane in its logic.

Then I found this response and felt better about the world again. Yes, thinking and feeling and knowing. Not to be warm and fuzzy about it, but looking for the light isn't that bad.

More light! Want more, MORE!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

MamaH has not approved this ad

...but she still thinks it's freakin' funny. Good thing Huckabees is too conservative to get elected. At least he's making a joke of himself in more ways than one!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

'Tis the season...

Let the games begin!

Ahem, let me rephrase that. As of November 1st: Let the games begin!

If you're confused, that is a true sign of your mental and fiscal health. You see, November 1st is the day that all things Halloween go in the bargain bin and wide swathes of nearly every store automatically pop up with tinsel, trimmings and light-diode-impregnated fake northern spruces.

Aah, the joys of the season that starts too soon, lasts too long, and drives the folks who work retail into lifetime Christmas music haters. Or is it "holiday" music haters?

Yes, as you can see, there is serious debate going on about whether the Wisconsin State "holiday tree" (dubbed so in the 1980's in a conniption of political correctness) should be renamed the "Christmas tree". Serious debate. Did I say that already?

Well, speaking as a resident Jew, I can plead... PLEASE return it to being the Christmas tree. Holiday tree is just ludicrous. Unless, that is, some wild roaming sect of Jews actually does have a penchant for felling small trees and bedecking them with oil lamps or candles. If there is such a case, my bad. Otherwise, let's just take down the whole ruse of egalitarianism. Trees have nothing to do with Hanukkah, nor to my knowledge, with Kwanzaa.

Then, go ahead and put up a menorah, or a kwanzaa candle thing, and maybe a festivus pole for good measure. (Festivus-- what an awesome stroke of comic genius!) Just don't waste our time pretending that the 50,000-pound elephant in the room is not indeed a towering elephant. In a whispered tone: We know about Christmas. It's OK. You can have that. Just don't expect us to decorate it with stars of david and play dreidel beneath it.


OK, on from the substantive debate. Now it's time for the real meaning of this holiday, er, christmas, er, shopping season... prezzies! Lots of 'em!

Including these dumb presents and these all-time most dangerous presents. Yep, they're real, folks. Reminds me of the cornballer from Arrested Development.


Yes, that's about as substantive as it gets these days... I've been running around trying to get everything done, knitting everything I can get my hands on (gee, can't guess if that's displaced mothering instinct, can we?) and almost ran a stop sign the other day (no kid in car... keep your pants on!) because I had a very surreal Luis Bunuel kind of image in my head of knitting eyelashes. Very strange. Perhaps a few too many lattes in the pot?

Monday, November 19, 2007

100% More Cheese

OK, OK...

Let me just lick off my fingers from these natural Cheetos (No preservatives, No artificial flavors, No artificial colors) and type a couple of minutes....

Yes, the glamor life in the intervening month or so (or longer?) since my last little snippet has trodden by and I've had only the impulse to write, never the follow-through or the subject matter, for that matter.

Life has just been strings of little whack-a-doodle details with no coherent storylines and it sort of reminds me of an episode of the show "Dirty Jobs" on the Discovery Channel. I saw one the other week when my husband was out of town about conch farmers who have to go out and harvest kelp to feed to the conch. They scoot out on this little dinky motorboat and haul all this slimy, long, rope-like kelp onto the boat and have to cut it with sharp knives (that stuff is actually amazingly strong). Does this sound like a good idea? Wielding sharp knives on a wet, slippery boat? One of the cameramen ends up puking.

Anyhow, nothing nearly as risky, but perhaps as dumb. My 2 1/2-year-0ld son had to have eye surgery and was on all sorts of drops and steriods. I believe this was the beginning of my downfall, because in order to keep him content (and from rubbing his eye all the time), we coaxed him into short bouts of mania with new toys, stickers, books, even the odd blue lollipop or two. It's been more than a month where I have had to physically catch him and hold him down for 5 eyedrops a day (during the day mostly by myself). And let me tell you, that ain't fun. Not woeful, just not fun.

Let's see now... Umm... There's been the fact that my son is 2 1/2 and thinks defiance is uproariously funny... that's been a good one. Then there has been the cold that has been passed along and has taken up residence at the farthest crevice of my sinus system (sort of like the solar system without any of the cache) and makes anyone who talks to me on the phone want to immediately get off because it's too obnoxious and/or painful to listen to me snort and snuff through the conversation.

Plus, the only freelance job I've had in a while is a five-hour whopper writing copy about acrylic bathtubs. Now with 100% new American acrylic!

Yes, all these things. And not knowing what to do with my life (how is it that everyone is doing something important with a capital "i" and I'm knitting an itchy scarf and eating "natural" Cheetos at 1pm?) and also not knowing if I will have another child (bigger, scarier, let's-not-go-there-because-it-could-get-messy).

Yup. The world of meaning, knock- knock- knockin' down my (OH-- mustn't forget... Oh crap. Whatever it is, I forgot it). Door?


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

How do you say "Ass-in-nine"?

A little late night nugget for your reading pleasure:

Bush's copy of his UN speech was accidentally posted on the Web, along with "idiot-proof" phonetic spellings. How do you say, "Doh!"?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Cue the Angels!

This has been a beastly week, but at least there's some redemption in the world: Apparently the New York Times has made all of its internet content free. Yes, that's right. Free.

I was one of the suckers who paid the $49.95/year to have access to all the blogs and goodies the NYTimes hid behind its little Times Select icons until this summer when I decided I would use that $49.95 to buy myself a cute bracelet in Germany. So much for my intellectual prowess...

Still, now I can freely graze among the lilies. You can, too. Go check it out.


And, in other news, my toddler managed to give himself a gigantic goose egg on his forehead sunday night. He attended preschool Monday morning wearing his bike helmet (to stave off further possible injury on the playground).


And apparently they blew the shofar on Monday for the kids to hear. Now he's obsessed. He runs around saying, "Shofar outside! Woman blow it!" Today he came home with a decorated paper-plate facsimile of the shofar and even tried to take it to bed with him. Cue the angels, indeed!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Tendering Words

One of the things that I'm amazed about with my son at this age is what he does, thinks and says when he's playing by himself.

This afternoon, as our iTunes picked an interesting mix of Vivaldi, REM, Keb Mo', Ray Charles and Coolio (yes, Coolio), my toddler guy was playing contentedly by himself.

At one point I heard him say, "helmet guy, we share with our friends!"

Last week, after he awoke from his nap, everything was cool. "Cool helmet, helmet guy!"

Today, he kept referring to himself as "Sweet boy."

You see, it's almost impossible for me at this point to have an independent thought from my son. I'm so enraptured with his language development that apparently I've turned into the parrot.


...And some sad news in the parrot world: Alex, the grey parrot, is no longer amongst the living.

He was, according to his obit, one of the world's most developed bird-brains: He knew over 100 words.

Apparently, the night before he died, when "his" researcher put him back in his cage, he said, "You be good, see you tomorrow. I love you.”

Monday, September 03, 2007

Papa Guy

I've been quite a stress kitten lately. I'll admit it. As my husband prepares to teach his first graduate class and simultaneously is falling prey to the rigors of organic lawn care, I have been minding the home front and trying to figure out what the hell to do with my toddler. Truth be told, my ideas usually run out around Thursday. And, with the end-of-summer hole (no swimming lessons or playgroups) to fill in the desperate blanks, I've been fit to be tied.

But enough about that. Bitching ain't going to solve it. Instead, I want to talk about why I am going to go down in the pantheon of bad (but inventive) moms. Why, you ask?

Well, with my verbal dexterity underchallenged as a stay-at-home-mom, I've resorted to playing small linguistic tricks on my son.

For instance, take last week. My husband was obsessed with the lawn. He thinks we have grubs, which are hatching into Japanese beetles and eating up our plants and planning the demise of our lawn ecosystem. Since using pesticides are out of the question (and, no irony here) I am in agreement with that, we have to find another way to get rid of the grub-a-dub-dubs. Enter the beneficial nematode. A boon to the lawn-obsessed, this little microscopic critter (which supposedly resembles a worm when you get one close enough to see) seeks out the grubs and eats them. Yum! Now that's some good Grub!

So, aforementioned husband waffles back and forth. Do we order them? D0 we not order them? Enough to cover our lawn will cost $50. For those of you keeping track, $50 buys you 50 million beneficial nematodes from the Internet. Finally, after much back-and-forth, he decides to order them. They show up a day later, packaged in a white styrofoam cooler which needs to go directly into the fridge. (I bet you're not eating at my house after you heard that!)

So, given the huge amount of care and interest the beneficial nematode has inspired in our house, I decide to tell my son that papa is getting nematodes. Can you say nematodes? "Nee-man-toes!" Shakes his head knowingly. I ask, "Do you know what nematodes are?" "Yup!" he says cheerily, shaking his head. I left it at that. As long as he thinks he knows what they are, who am I to spoil it with the actual (and perhaps icky) explanation?

Since my little chatterbox is actually an old chatterbox with a skipping record, it has been taken up into his vocabulary stew. It is not unusual to hear a string of words like this one: "Helmet guy goes up there up the ladder nematode. Jet engines!"

And, upon overhearing a conversation I had on the phone with someone last week, he has also picked up another little ditty. Someone we know just found out that they have two spleens. No matter how funny that may sound, it apparently isn't very funny if you're that person. Two spleens-- not so fun. So when I heard it, I said in a loud voice, "He has TWO SPLEENS?" and started laughing hysterically. Suddenly, my son was orbiting the couch at great velocity yelling "Two SPEENS!"

To make matters that much worse, I have two languages to mess around with. ONCE, mind you, months and months ago, when my son pointed to a picture of a parrot in one of his books, I told him that the German word for parrot was papagei. Then I thought to myself, giggled, and said it as two words: PAPA GUY... which is apt, for my -guy obsessed child ("Where helmet guy go?" "Guy over there and up a ladder!") And, ever the little parrot, he's stuck on repeat.

Where Mama go? To hell, apparently. Mama go where she not warp minds of small children.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


The past couple of days I've fallen asleep while telling my son a bedtime/naptime story. Picture me laying on the floor (beige carpet-- awful suburban plague), me sticking my hand through the slots to hold my son's hand. (The command comes from behind the blanket: "Mama, hold the hand!") and so I do. It's a concession. A weakness, perhaps. Still, it seems a godsend to have him fall asleep behind the bars of the crib as compared to the wild late-night air mattress surfing that he practiced while we were in Germany. So, I'll throw him a bone.

And truth be told, the storytelling does me good. It's like those beginning creative writing workshop exercises where you get to pick disparate words or phrases out of a hat and have to craft something out of them.

Only mostly what you got from those exercises was a bunch of crap with maybe a funny line or two. (Don't apply for the poet-laureate position just yet...)

Yet somehow, despite the common constraints, dictated by a 2 1/2-year-old with certain predelictions, shall we say, to "Papa, Max and Elmo with helmets on!" or "Helmet guys!" or "Duffy train driver and ice cream truck!", it's amazing the amount of variety I've mined.

Take for example, my masterpiece from last week, "Papa, Max and Elmo take two modes of transportation (helmets on, for safety, of course) to visit the Helmet Guy Convention". Now that was a finely crafted piece of oral literature. And there are other favorites (of mine, not of his-- I can safely say that my stories put him to sleep. Does that count as being "good"?) Like when my son got to take his nap in the back of a dump truck while the "helmet guy" drove him to sleep, or when the firemen had to come and pump out our flooded backyard (we woke up to ducks swimming around in it!)

But, perhaps like all good children's stories, there are certain predictabilities (see the aforementioned child falling asleep portion of the program). However, I am apparently too good of a hypnotist. Telling the stories is so relaxing to me that I have woken up drooling, with carpet-rash over half of my face. This afternoon when I awoke after an hour, I was still holding my son's hand, and I couldn't feel most of my arm because it was asleep.

Aaah, love. Is it terrible to say that I am good at this thing love? That I am good at talking? (Consult any elementary-school report card for confirmation).

The other night I had a dream that I had to take over teaching my husband's class when he went on a trip. I remember: I was overcome with joy!

And I remember why, I suppose. When I most loved teaching, I got to tell stories. In them, we were all awake. We learned things. Them and I. Completely engaged in love.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Dispatch from Abroad

Greetings from the land of the bizarro keyboard. It's been a year since I've typed on one of these, and it shows. A tutorial: y and z are switched. The @ symbol is hidden on the 'l' key and only accessible by hitting the alt key simultaneously. Then there's the beautiful ü, ö, ä with their little follow-the-dancing balls breaking up the monotony of the normal asdf jkl;. It's more like asdf jklö. Even these (non)sense combinations are an order of sorts. A discipline which fingers forget and remember again just long enough to forget. A constant deja vu.


And just the same, it's amazing to me how much knowledge is stuck inside of me, leaping to the surface as if it were there all the time (it was). Yesterday we had some friends over and they were talking about the moving sidewalks in the Paris underground. Instead of the conveyor-belt technology used in most airports, they are apparently comprised of many cylinders which propel you the minute you step on them. There are two lanes- slow and fast, and the fast one accelerates you at impressive speed. Our friends said that no matter how prepared you are for it mentally, it still comes as a physical surprise. Something about all those small cylinders causing such momentum seems as though it can't be true.

I wish that for the three years I lived here, I had kept a blog. I can only imagine what things I had said as I return to the thoughts, walking down the streets. It would be interesting to see the persistence of perception or the slight kant as if walking up a slight incline. Today, here. Three years, a decade from now, head cocked a little to the side.


Before leaving home, my husband and I both had a feeling we did not want to leave. We weren't ready to come. There's always so much in motion that it's hard to feel like it's possible (even preferable?) to leave it, stop-motion. Perhaps we crave a more episodic handling of our exposition. This is the point in the plot where we wind things up. Although we live in simultaneousness as a point of being (breathing AND looking AND thinking AND biting nails), our minds trick us into thinking that it is not so. Focus and selection is an amazing coping skill.

Yet when we arrived, our arrival was immediate. Here is our bank. There is where I always bought the plums (much better than the stand right next to it) and money is money, not some computation of this is how much? (If you've looked at the value of the Euro recently, you'll know how dangerous of an automatism this is!)

At the same time, life at home is whole and constant, even without us this period of time. The fruit flies that swarm around half-eaten bananas here are the same that are digesting our compost at home. The process (though unseeable: when will our compost finally yield DIRT, for God's sakes?) is ongoing.


I can tell you where I am now because I do this blog anonymously. Therefore I am not worried that you will go to my house, foil my security system and steal my dirt. I can tell you where I am, but never who I am. That's the riddle that keeps life rolling forward.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Makin' it hard out here for a pimp

So I'm not a joiner. I'll admit that much. Never really toyed with the idea of joining a sorority (they're just for pretty girls, and I'm pretty and smart, or so the rationale goes). Never, never wanted to be friends with everyone I met. Nor do I expect to be liked by everyone. That would require me to actually talk to all people, which I have always viewed as an acute waste of time and energy.

Elitist, perhaps. Protectionist definitely.

Still, I apparently every once and a while feel the need to ride the preverbial mechanical bull of social organizing. I was president of my women's club in Germany (smart women, mind you!) and now I've taken on neighborhood organizing. Apparently, I am a glutton for punishment. Still, it seems to me that especially in the burbs like where I live, it's important to know your neighbors.

It's especially important to know your neighbors if you live down the street from a pimp/drug dealer.

So, I suppose my organizing bug is a fair part survival instinct. Still, it always seemed to me to work better with the carrot than the stick. So I decided to organize a 4th of July picnic for the neighborhood. I delivered flyers in every mailbox (even the pimp's!), I bought foamcore and made signs. I even bought american flags, for God's sakes, and streamers, and patriotic tablecloths. Not something that this mama would ever really do. I'm just not the "garden flag" type.

Anyhow, out of 60 houses, 12 showed up (including us). It was certainly an interesting group. We have lots of diversity for such a small, relatively new neighborhood in what I consider to be a relatively white, American state. We had our older paranoid gossip couple (the woman totally reminds me of Lynette's babysitter on Desperate Housewives), we had our good christian family with four daughters (I think the woman was taken aback when I hinted that we were Jewish. Bizarro).

Yet, I couldn't help but feel let down that there weren't more people there. It felt as though the whole neighborhood was posing like those monkeys "See no Evil, hear no evil, speak no evil." Suffice it to say, no pimps or even neighbors of pimps showed up.


My husband and I have had many discussions on how to get people motivated to care, and look out for each other. We have this (call it idealistic) thought that the more people know each other, the more uncomfortable it will be for the pimps.

I've even had fantasies of surreptitiously delivering welcome packets of flowers and brownies to the pimp's mailbox. If caught, I could simply shrug and say I wanted them to feel welcome in the neighborhood (of course hoping for the exact opposite effect). These people want to operate with a fair amount of anonymity. The less you allow them that, the more likely it is, perhaps, that they will move elsewhere.

That having been said, my husband wants me in no way, shape or form to be leaving baked goods in the pimp's mailbox. Still, I love the fantasy of it.


Do you out there have any ideas of what might work for us? How has your neighborhood worked on building community? Have you dealt with any safety concerns or difficult neighbors? Any good (or even off-the-wall fun) ideas on how to go about fostering community and at the same time making the pimps feel unwelcome?

Write to me. Otherwise, I might be driven to greater lengths of social gregariousness. And we wouldn't want it to come to that now, would we?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Methinks that Booty Smelleth Not So Fresh...

And the recalls keep coming, folks. Just a day after being warned to throw away ANY toothpaste made in China, hospitals and mental wards are finding hordes of tubes of the possibly toxic goo.

Then comes the news that the FDA is banning certain kinds of fish from being imported from China unless they can prove that they are NOT contaminated with: Carcinogens, Illegal antibiotics, Unidentifiable "filth" and/or Salmonella. Yum. And, via the NYTimes, I found out that the US apparently gets almost 80% of its seafood from China. Yikes. Back away from that fish stick!

And, if all that isn't wacko enough, they're now saying that Veggie Booty (snack of choice for the Toddler set) is causing a rolling outbreak of Salmonella in kids across the country. Is nothing sacred?! Where else are our kids going to get their fill of rice flour puffs dusted with broccoli and kale?

While I have always sort of giggled under my breath at moms who think that Veggie Booty actually counts as a vegetable (I actually overheard someone saying, "If my kid didn't eat Veggie Booty, I don't know HOW we'd get him to eat his veggies!") I still think it can have its place as a (relatively) innocuous treat on occasion. No longer. I am livid that last week at playgroup I could have been feeding my friends' kids (and my own) Salmonella Puffs.


Today my son was insistent that he wanted to go to the "train store", a local toy store where they have four different train and vehicle tables in a small space. I have to say that I still feel uneasy about the Thomas the Tank Engine thing. Even though the company theoretically has the whole lead issue under control with their recall, I'm still uncomfortable having my son play with the Thomas toys.


I think I saw a bumper sticker once that read something to the effect of "It's not paranoia if they really are following you." However, if your paranoid behavior does land you in the loony bin, don't brush your teeth or eat the shrimp. That'll teach them a lesson.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

PB kids, and I'm not talkin' Pottery Barn here

I read an alarming article today in the NYTimes about the case of the Consumer Product Safety Board (CPSB)-- the government group that's supposed to make sure that consumer products are, well, as the name suggests, SAFE for consumer use.

Now, anyone who has kids can tell you the pandemonium that has broken out amongst parents about the latest recall action of twenty-some-odd Thomas the Tank Engine pieces. They can probably tell you which pieces are affected and why: Lead (chemical symbol Pb) found in the red and yellow paint.

What most of these parents don't know, however, is that despite the fact that recalls of consumer items (and, scarily enough, many many toys) has seen a huge increase in the past years, the CPSB is actually less and less able to do its job because of cuts in funding. Witness this:

In the last two years, the staff of the consumer product commission has been cut by more than 10 percent, leaving fewer regulators to monitor the safety of the growing flood of imports.

Some consumer advocates say that such staff cuts under the Bush administration have made the commission a lax regulator. The commission, for example, acknowledged in a recent budget document that “because of resource limitations,” it was planning next year to curtail its efforts aimed at preventing children from drowning in swimming pools and bathtubs.

Yikes. I hate to sound like one of those anti-foreign harpies, but given recent events with all sorts of whacked-out shit showing up in products proudly Made In China (Now! With Extra Little Oversight!), I am seriously in a quandary.

Even many of my favorite toymakers, including European firms, are outsourcing their work to China. China seems to be either unable or unwilling to police itself. (Heck, if we can't manage to do it, either, how can we expect them to?)

And, given the fact that so much manufacturing and production has moved to China, it seems foolhearty to think that A)We can avoid all products made in China and that B)Despite recent events, that all Chinese-produced things are inherently tainted. There is just a huge unknown.

However, it's appalling that we have to wait for kids or parents to start noticing lead poisining or choking hazards in order to have something actually done about it because of a lack of resources and oversight.

One thought: Perhaps it's past time to start holding stores accountable for selling these products. If retailers hear that their consumers are p.o.'d because they stock items that could potentially kill or critically injure their children or themselves, perhaps retailers will be more responsible consumers, themselves.

How's that for a moral to the story, Thomas? Peep peep!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Foiled Again

This will have to be quick, as a plaintive "Paaaaa-paaaaaa" escaped from underneath my son's door, and the babble is beginning to trickle.

I have officially joined the ranks of the Security Moms, having successfully allowed the Security People to bore holes through my doors and install cat-insensitive motion detectors and very sensitive glass breaks throughout the house. I am now officially ready to accidentally set off my own home security system at any time that is inconvenient to me or my sleeping toddler. Let the fun begin!

And speaking of defenses, I read this awesome article about captchas (see visual above), those wacky little letter/number puzzles that web sites use to authenticate that you are, indeed, a human. Apparently they are getting easier and easier for computers to solve, and harder and harder for humans to solve. Which means that the security mavens have to invent even more interesting ways to tell humans from their malice-seeking technological counterparts.

And, in closing, a remark on the frailty of human perception, brought to you by the letter X:

Yesterday I heard various stories of people cracking up. It seems the coo-coo bird has been hovering ravenous over distant relatives, family friends and old neighbors. And it seems, somehow, whether you describe people as "functioning" paranoids or alcoholics or mourners, "functioning" is really only cushioning that you give yourself to not feel as though people are one step away from falling into the abyss. Because if they are only one step away, are we only two steps, maybe three at most? Enough to give anyone vertigo.

Still, I must think of my alarm here, poised and ready to serve (or perhaps, rather, to swerve?) Safety sounds permanent, but is really an incomplete thought better left unfinished. Too much else interesting going on in the world to be worried about your boundaries, lest you inscribe them too tightly and then there you sit. The abyss-- in a dot.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Reinventing the Wheel

There's nothing like raising a child-- watching it progress from a squirmy little bundle of nerve endings and crying to a thinking, talking, plotting human being-- to recharge your wonder and frustration in the world.

One of the most bizarre realizations I remember having was when my son was about 10 months old and started showing a clear preference for anything with wheels. Why wheels?, I thought. (Is this mystery, perhaps, etched on the Y chromosome?)

Since then, we've gone through love affairs with every be-wheeled thing that touches the earth with its magical orbs. Each has been named, counted, described. Routes have been altered to see the absolute most of them we can see in a given drive.

Yet their magic is difficult for me to feel vicariously, the same way, for instance, I revel in every new word and word combination expressed. (This weekend he woke up insisting "Book store. Book store." Boy are we in trouble!)

Yet the image above, taken from this wonderful article from the NYTimes (where else), captures for me the amazement of wheels. This article talks about a design show in NY which is focused on low-cost design solutions to some of the world's most pressing problems. It features this water containter, in the shape of a wheel, which can be pulled even by a young child.


What a beautiful form! What a beautiful function!

I would like to start a practice where I take maybe one hour a week to generate new ideas. I invite you to join me. They could be ideas from your own realm of work, or they can be far afield. Take one hour a week (doesn't friday seem the best day for this?) to actively daydream and see what you come up with.

More to come...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Open Wide

I normally feel the weight of the world on my shoulders just as a regular precaution. This week, it's enough to keep me even busier.

You see, just before my husband left for a conference in Alaska (of all places!), he found out in a casual conversation with our neighbor over lawnmowing that apparently our teensy little neighborhood is home to not one, but two houses of ill-repute (of the red-light variety) and one suspected drug dealer.

Now, I cannot attest to the veracity of the claims. However, I certainly know that people had their panties in a gather a while ago because someone got a laptop stolen from their car. (For the record, the car was unlocked and parked on the street at the time. Doh!)

At any rate, apparently there has also been a car stolen, multiple car break-ins, and an as yet uncorroborated account of a neighbor hearing someone in her house.

Still, true or not, it can scare the living daylights out of you.

My husband is known to all of our friends as a safety fiend. I think if my son would suffer no ill feelings from other children because of it, my husband might have him walk around in full protective headgear.

Yet we are both of the conviction that oftentimes even talking about "security" (as in, say, the "homeland" variety) makes people feel, ironically, unsafe. We scoffed at the folks who felt unsafe without a security system out here.

AND, we are now installing a security system. It can be hooked up to the fire alarms so that the fire station is called instantly. There are panic buttons and all sorts of things that can keep you safe (though thinking about them makes you feel unsafe).

Still, I wonder. Safety itself is one thing. Feeling safe, parodoxically, is a state of mind that is not always related to actual safety (and in fact, is sometimes diametrically opposed to safety. Why else would women stay with their abusers, etc.?)

Perhaps we need to study the idea of a fair amount of preparedness with a large dose of denial. How does that sound?


In the meantime, there's all sorts of change going on. The semester has ended and our dear babysitter has graduated and been let out into the wild to change the world as she sees it. In her stead, her roommate, sorority sister and elementary ed. major has taken her place.

With such singing credentials, I should be on the moon. Yet I was still nervous today when I left her here. Even though last week when she visited I saw my son through the window give her a big hug. (And where does he get off hugging women he hardly knows and saying no to me?)

Of course, everything went fine. When I came home, everything was in order and my son barely noticed I was back. He hugged the new babysitter three or four times with verve.

I was thinking about my nervousness as I was doing my errands. I guess change is just like that. Sometimes with things that have to do with my son (like his first swimming lessons alone, and in this case) I am nervous for him. He ends up doing fine. I'm the one who is having the problem with change, because I am anticipating it. I am rehearsing what I have to do to intercede on his behalf. My motherly nature causes me to pace the floors in my mind. And the babe sleeps quieter than ever, tired and satisfied by his conquests.


And in our final installment, I bring you the latest in food news.

Apparently (though I didn't hear the gruesome details firsthand and I am glad I didn't), a baby died recently because its parents kept it on a vegan diet. Their idea of "vegan" meant giving the baby regular soy milk and applesauce. It goes without saying that this is an absolute perversion of thought. Why wouldn't mother's milk (the most natural thing in the world) be acceptable as baby food? Just thinking about this bizarre case makes me want to get up and punch someone.

I mean, I'm all for animal rights and humane treatment of animals. During college I was even a vegetarian for a while. Partially because of conviction, partially because I was always a veggie and carb lover. But veganism itself is an absolute extreme position to take (and, in my eyes, an unhealthful one.) My only calming thought is that perhaps the baby's parents were themselves so self-imposed malnourished that they couldn't think straight. This Op-Ed from the NYTimes expresses sentiments about this case much more eloquently than I can.

And, just in case you were looking for toothpaste with that "extra special something," look no further than China. Under the brand name "Mr. Cool", a chinese company was producing and exporting toothpaste that contained diethylene glycol, known to most of us as a poisonous component of antifreeze.

What's more, this toothpaste has shown up in at least three countries under some other names and toothpastes marketed specifically for children.


Perhaps the question is... is the old adage true: "The second you become comfortable on a ladder is the one right before you fall." Or does fear beget mostly only fear?

We'll see you in the next round of "Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Pimp!"

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The weather with you

I've always felt particularly attuned to the weather. Today it's absolutely pouring gobs and gobs from the sky, and I feel relieved. Somehow, I've always felt that crappy weather gives you the excuse to let down your guard and just BE for a while. When I lived in particularly sunny places (Arizona, Colorado) I always felt like I was living in some sort of strange suspended animation. Perhaps like butterflies feel-- their wings reach an optimum temperature and then they start flying-- are compelled to fly-- by their appetites, not necessarily their desires.

The past two weekends I've been furiously busy feting (missing the carat above the 'e' but don't know how to make it) two toddlers and a cousin. Not that I get to feel some Oh woe is me. Love moves us to action when we perhaps otherwise would be the slug. Still, as much as I love people, love creating the environment where people get together and laugh and trade barbs, I also need the shut-down. Anyone who tries to have a conversation with me on the telephone while my son is napping can attest to my need to slip into that trance-like state. I can range from snippy to sleepy to disinterested to ornery. I bristle at any mention of being productive or accomplishing specific tasks.

I've alternately never quite understood my Dr. Jekyll/Mrs. Hyde personality and yet celebrated it. I can be no other. Just like a playful juxtaposition of motifs, it's how I keep my edge.

Mostly I am discomforted by my huge range of personal quirks when they are embodied in other people-- specifically, friends. My friends range from the very earthy to the very intellectual to the sharp dressers and professional shoppers. I can find myself at home with people in multiple combinations of these qualities. I more fear what happens when physically I get them all together.

This past weekend, spurred on by Toddler Birthday Number 2 (my own toddler this time), I dropped the perverbial mechitzah and allowed the species to intermingle. And doing so told me more about myself than it did about them, oddly enough.

Primarily, it made me think about the expectations I have about myself and what my comfort zone is.

I love new, beautiful, highly-designed things. Yet I also love and crave things that are deals, that are old and used, that have a history.

I feel most comfortable when I look "put together", yet I always want to have at least one thing that jars just a little bit, be it a little strange match or a pop of color. I never want to look trendy or overdone.

I want to be taken seriously and seen as an intellectual, yet I love potty humor and People magazine. I want to be simultaneously earthy and above it all.

All of which means some sort of a balance. Unfortunately (or fortunately, not sure which) life and feelings don't work just "in the middle". Life is all across the spectrum, and we're along for the ride. Sort of like the weather, I suppose. When there's too much sun, you need a dose of rain. So much external, you need the internal pulling you back in.

That balance also isn't always elegant. It makes me think of all those wonderful two-word film titles...: "Bread and Tulips" (wonderful film!), "Strawberry and Chocolate". Perhaps for my life, a more appropriate title would be the contents of my plastic bag this morning as I emerged from the Bavaria Sausage Company store on one of my frequent Teutonic binges: Chocolate and Sausages. Forecast: more of the same.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

DIY (Destroy It Yourself)

I was bitching on the phone yesterday to a friend of mine about a certain husband who shall remain nameless. This certain husband (Let's call him Dr. X) is pretty handy about the house. Have a picture that needs to be hung? He's your man. Sink spigot leaking? Look no further.

So when I was out surveying our gardening progress (and the progress of a certain wascally tenant of the rabbit persuasion who has taken to digging holes in interesting places), I noticed that in the corner of the house's eave a little piece of siding was bent askew. This image recalled in an instant images from my childhood living in a big ole house that was frequented by bats and, famously, a family of quarrelling raccoons who got particularly frisky in the middle of the night the week of my senior AP exams.

Needless to say, it was the first thing out of my mouth to Dr. X when he walked in the door from work. This, however, he informed me, would require a ladder. Not just any old ladder-- a big honkin' outdoor ladder. Leading the busy lives that we do, it took a couple of days for said ladder to be purchased. Fine. No problem.

After an afternoon at the playground with my son, I called home to find Dr. X already there. I asked him to put on a pot of water and boil some pasta for our voracious toddler-- it was, after all, already 6pm and I had just worked for over a half an hour to drag him from the playground.

But I was going to get up and fix that siding, said Dr. X. No problem on a normal day, but with an already disgruntled, now hungry and dirty toddler, I asked him to delay until the boy was fed and taken care of.

By the time the boy was in bed, it was just shy of 8:30pm. The sun was going down. And Dr. X was going up. The ladder, that is. Granted, he had all the right intentions. He is a conscientious homeowner and father, and didn't want to leave that hole up there for inquiring minds who want to know the inside of our attic.

Still, two minutes before total sundown is not particularly the greatest time to go up a 20-foot ladder. I pointed this out to him and (perhaps not politely enough, I've realized in retrospect) told him in no uncertain terms that he should not go up that ladder. Not a good idea. Period. No.

To which he responded, Well thank you. You have been extremely helpful at every step of the way here.

I will spare you the details of the just plain dumb back-and-forth we had (involving empty threats about someone sleeping on the couch). The next morning, as promised, we put the toddler into his playpen to further disassemble his favorite pop-up book and Dr. X scaled the ladder to snap the offending piece of siding back into place.

Then, with much satisfaction, I read this article from the NYTimes today about the various and sundry ways that (I'm just guessing here) male DIY-ers find of disassembling their bodies (primarily hands) in the name of home improvement.

That's not to say that you can't do many things yourself, it's just that you shouldn't do them in a hurry and, (gloating here) perhaps not in the dark.


And, while we're on the subject of DIY disasters, there's the Iraq war. So I come to read this blog over at where they're talking about a hearing of the US Armed Services Committee of the Senate on "Defense Department language technology and training and cultural awareness". There I found this little jewel from Retired Major General Robert Sales, Jr.:
'I think we can all agree that most of our shortcomings in the recent wars have been human and not technological, Scales told the committee. "And the list is long; cultural awareness, the ability to influence and shape opinions, soldier conduct, information operations -- the list goes on.'

Changing this state of affairs, said Scales, is 'going to require a real transformation in how the Department of Defense views war, that we move from a technocentric view of warfare to a cultural-centric view of warfare, and that the human, behavioral, cognitive, and cultural aspects of warfare become as much a part of our lexicon, our research and development, our training and education, as learning how to operate machines is today.'

Scales finished by noting that the U.S. fumbled its early successes in Iraq, 'because of our penchant to find technological solutions, as I said, to human problems ... I suggest that the lesson from Iraq is, we should have started earlier to apply human sciences to solve the human problem ... We Americans view war as a science project, and we tend to find technological solutions.'

Yes. The problem "over there" is that for all the little handheld translation devices and strategies for "winning hearts", we never knew who we were talking to. Hand me that hammer, will you?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Who is like You?

This morning, I was thrown into the water... or rather, my son was. I was on the other side of a glass wall, watching. This morning my son took his first swim lesson without me similiarly suited up, cheering wildly at every purposeful gurgle of bubbles or kick of legs.

I normally pride myself on my mommy-restraint. I don't have existential fits about leaving him with a babysitter. I want him to go forth and experience the world. Still, this qualifies as his first foray into the world where mom isn't in charge and must sit on the sidelines.

I think my girlfriend must have thought I was nuts. Every time he started to wander away from the ledge where he was to wait while his friend practiced with the teacher, I fidgeted, called his name. It became embarrassing that I was unable to stymie this knee-jerk response. My son would look over to me, sometimes eliciting a wave. He obviously understood that I was separated. Apparently, I didn't.


Cognitive dissonance. Simply said, it's when something that rubs you the wrong way. Makes you experience psychological discomfort.

Apparently, not only do we feel this on an individual basis, but on a collective one as well. On a psycho-social level, like attracts like. Like moves to the suburb. Likes follow. I blog, and I like your blog because we think alike, so I link to you. You link to others that think like we do. We are all hard-wired, apparently, to avoid situations where we are the clear minority.

This new NYTimes blog called "Our Lives as Atoms: On the Physical Patterns that Govern Our World", Mark Buchanan (a theoretical physicist) talks in his first post about how both racial segregation, and the whole red state/blue state dynamic of the blogosphere come into being and perpetuate themselves. As he says:
This spontaneous segregation of opinions on the Web is one example of a social outcome that really has very little to do with individual human intentions, and more to do with patterns that arise automatically through natural feedbacks. We often don’t see these feedbacks, but they can strongly influence our lives
Yes, I think. Are such preferences hard-wired? You betcha. Can we do something about them when they become so divisive as to make us want to throw the other (political) half into the ocean? Perhaps. Knowing what hand you've got is the first step to doing something about it. Perhaps we're all not so different after all, we're just not talking to anyone else.


An X by any other name would smell as sweet...

And with mother's day just around the bend, perhaps it's time to shed some light on the almighty X chromosome and what she does for us. That's just what Natalie Angier does in her ode to the X called "For Motherly X Chromosome, Gender Is Only the Beginning". She starts with a job description:
Must be exceptionally stable yet ridiculously responsive to the needs of those around you; must be willing to trail after your loved ones, cleaning up their messes and compensating for their deficiencies and selfishness; must work twice as hard as everybody else; must accept blame for a long list of the world’s illnesses; must have a knack for shaping young minds while in no way neglecting the less glamorous tissues below; must have a high tolerance for babble and repetition; and must agree, when asked, to shut up, fade into the background and pretend you don’t exist.

It turns out, this is not only a damned good description of what moms do, but also what the X chromosome does. Since the Y chromosome is primarily responsible for sex differentiation, the X has to pick up the slack in most all ways.

Therein lies the struggle of the mother and the X: We must be all things to all people, and all things to ourselves. It's an onus that is the cause for myriad and sundry bitching. It is also something we wouldn't (and couldn't) trade for the world.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Practice and Reward

I've been watching little bits of Sesame Street with my son for the past few days in order to rid him of his Elmo (and general muppet) aversion. My feeling is, he doesn't have to like Elmo (or own the doll, for that matter), but he shouldn't be scared of Elmo. He shouldn't cry and run screaming from the room anytime he glimpses the little red guy.

It just so happens that the sort of moralistic thread through this particular episode of Sesame Street that we've been watching is that most things worth doing require practice. And of course you can't expect to do something perfectly the first time you do it. You have to work at it.

So Tully works on his cheer for the Grouch parade (consisting of drumming on his garbage can lid chest protector and yelling Grrrrrrrrouch! simultaneously) and a little girl in Mongolia has to learn how to do the aptly-named Mongolian bowl dance where, guess what, she has to balance bowls on her head.

As I watch this with my son, I am actively wondering what of this he gets. Does he follow these little equations? Does he store these little nuggets in his squirrel brain? If so, how does he see them as relevant to him? Or does he not... does he simply store most of what he encounters and then only index it later on as he has more experience which makes this knowledge appropriate or important?


Another thought about practice making perfect... My husband and I have been Tivo-ing The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and watching 2 or 3 episodes on the weekend. Of course, this being too soon after the Virginia Tech shootings to make most jokes, Stewart instead focused on the media coverage, most of which I was happy to miss. Somehow seeing all the coverage put into his wry perspective cures me of the pain that it would have caused to actually watch it. One of the things he pointed out was that in order to fill dead airtime (and to make the whole thing more sensational and compelling, ick), the tv pundits and analysts were speculating as to what allowed this shooting to happen.

Apparently, it was guns, lack of parental involvement, xenophobia, violent movies and video games (not necessarily in that order).

Well, as far as the video games go, they may have been half right. That's not to say that every kid who plays violent video games will become violent, but it is to say that for whatever reason, as this Slate article discusses, there seems to be a correlation between kids who play violent video games being more violent themselves. Now, that's not to say that the video games cause the real-life violence, or whether kids who already have violent tendencies or traits self-select such games. Still, it seems to me that correlation should not be overlooked. Go read the article for yourself and see what you think.


So I was over at Feeding Time at the Zoo and N. was talking about money and about wanting so many things (as we, I suspect, all do). Since neither I nor most of the people I know are of infinite means, it seems we all have to develop some strategy to not constantly feel like we want to buy things.

I started to think about the coping mechanisms I've developed to quell my need to spend and to have (which, as a public service and in the name of truth in advertising, I will admit that, according to my DH, I'm not nearly consistent enough with).

Drumroll please...

I do my laundry. Yes, ladies and gents, that is coping mechanism #1. Many times when I feel like nothing in my closet fits or I am sick of everything I see, I simply have to wade through the veritable oceans of dirty clothes that never ever, despite my best efforts, are all clean at the same time. Most often I find some (or, ahem, many) long-lost and forgotten items that just so happen to fit and aren't so god-awful hideous.

I garden. (This of course really only works during the warmer months, but this one's a goodie). I don't know what it is about gardening that gets me off the comsumer treadmill. If I were totally idealistic, I would think that it's some loosey-goosey connection with God and the world, mother nature, etc. pp.

However, I suspect that more likely than not, it's a combination of other things: physical activity, sunlight, distraction. Weeding is an extremely cathartic activity which somehow seems to take care of the same obsessive activity needs that would otherwise require shopping or knitting or compulsive internet surfing. Also, I think gardening allows you to buy things with your eyes. You don't really own flowers or plants. They are somehow gracious and generous all at once. And let's face it, some colors just look much better in nature than on your ass in a pair of jeans.

I un-shop. I go into stores with specifically the caveat that I must leave empty-handed. Again, I shop with my eyes. I get ideas for things that I can make or do inspired by what I see. Now, granted, many times when I do that I pick up things along the way. I carry them around. I try and justify in my mind why I need a particular item. Then when I get up to the register, I abandon ship. Yes, I am the bane of every store clerk's existence.

The only thing I will say about this last method is that sometimes it has the unintended consequence that I actually feel guilty as though I did spend the money. (Try that one on for size, Herr Freud).

Still, in general, my best practices are the ones that keep me out of the stores, out of the market so-to-speak for temptation, self-improvement, vanity and bought fixes. In fact, I think most of my impulses to buy new things are actually signals to pay attention to myself, to take time out, to feel connected or indulged.

Now, that's not to say that one should never buy new things. Or, occasionally, expensive ones, even. It's just that most often, it's not really the solution to what ails me. Yes, I know, all this stuff is easier said than done. But, then again, as Tully says, Practice makes better.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Odd Ends

I'm a bit too loosey-goosey at the moment to put together a coherent narrative, yet I've got lots of material I'd like to pass on.

Like this article by Michael Pollan about why twinkies are cheaper than carrots. Frightening and fattening!

This article, also from the NYT dining section, about the joys of processed foods.

And also this article, about how you know if your dog likes you.

My speculation: Your dog would like you even better if you fed him twinkies. But not for long.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Call and Response

I don't need any excuses to fear the blank page. I am almost always (mostly at once):

1) Too tired
2) Too distracted
3) Feeling too guilty
4) Procrastinating
5) Having too much going on in my head that I'll eventually (on some perfect day) magically figure out and THEN write
6) Feeling like an imposter
7) Checking and rating celebrity fashion disasters
8) Trying to get the lyrics of a Raffi song about a guy with a ladle out of my head
9) Feeling overwhelmed by the disaster that is my home at the end of a toddler-filled day
10) Just wanting to cuddle up with my hubby and his laptop
11) Overwhelmed by the sorry state of affairs in this world (and especially this country!)
12) Doing NY Times crossword puzzles

Yes, it's the old blank page as an existential mirror routine. I seem to be at once too deep and too shallow for this world to communicate something, anything, of meaning.

Yet it seems like there are always these things-- events. Disasters. Crackpots and the media that stick their proverbial hoses into anything and pump it up like a big old fat bike tire. So many whack-a-doodle (good and bad) things that taunt me into the realm of words.

Of course this Va. Tech shooter thing is just one of them. I am so infuriated about needing to write about this! And about having to read about it everywhere. I guess it's the way I ended up feeling about Columbine, Timothy McVeigh, 9/11... I guess Katrina being the only exception... I don't think there's been enough about the aftermath and the failure upon failure upon failure to do anything right about it. But pretty much this thing ranks with me amongst the rankest moments of recent history, and the beastly media who, as my dad put it today, "Treat it like it's one big reality TV show".

At this point, I should mention that I DON'T EVEN WATCH TV. I never watch the evening news. I haven't since I left this country in 2000, and upon our return, a sage friend of mine said, "You'll be ok going back. Just whatever you do-- DON'T WATCH THE NEWS." And yet I still feel the media spinning and spinning like a Jackson Pollock painting, spewing out details here and there with hopes that one little bitty bit will grab you, shake you. Just for the sake of shaking you, not for some resolution, some better end.

Truth is, at this moment I am irate enough. I wish I could go back in time and BE that idiot kid's creative writing teacher and not only boot him the hell out of my class, but lock him up and throw away the key.

As a mom, I think about how much time and energy people put into their kids. Yes, even the parents who aren't perfect. Most people try and do the best job as parents that they can. They want their kids to be happy and succeed. They want their kids to make the world a better place. They nurture and save and send their kids off into this world with all that. And then this jackass comes in and thinks he can unravel the world... and does a pretty decent job of it.

Except, of course, that no one wants to let him have the last say. The problem is, that in our crazy mourning and disbelief, we start spinning tales around it. He was a sicko. He was mental. The system failed us. Guns are the problem. Someone should have known beforehand and done something. And none of that is enough or is right.

At this moment, the one thing that I can say is that, youth aside, someone should have nailed that kid to the door and not let him go. This kid was mentally aggressive and threatening to others from about as far back as anyone can remember. And somehow it was never enough to get him. We shouldn't have to wait until crackpots physically carry out on their threats. Hatred and intimidation are not tantamount to free speech.

I suppose, if anything, I can hope that what comes out of this is that people (that means me and you!) don't let aggression, be it pubescent, ideological, religious, political or otherwise, go unchecked. If someone is doing something to you personally or to us universally, nail the f*cker to the wall. Don't be afraid to stand up.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

For Looks

It's amazing to think of the proliferation of ways we males and females of this species work to make ourselves attractive. In fact, many people can put food on the table in this world simply because we're succeptible to the latest wrinkle cream, shade of blusher or hot rod. The thing is, it's not just about mating or attractiveness to a mate.

Behold, my Sunday afternoon: Head covered in brown goo to cover my ever-burgeoning grays, wearing an unflattering, too-tight button down shirt gapping between the buttons, eating a kosher bologna and mayo sandwich. Can you think of anything less attractive? I'm not sure that I can. The funny thing is, my husband always tells me to leave my hair alone already. He likes the little cruella gray streak that I've had since I hit 28 and he could care less about the vanity. So why do I do it? I guess I feel like I look better with my original hair color which was described to me by a friend's mom as "about as black as a white girl can get". It's not fear of aging per se-- I just feel like I look much more tired with grays. And looking tired makes me feel tired.

Still, the goofy things that we do for vanity (or, I suppose, attractiveness to the opposite sex) have nothing on the penguins. They're apparently really turned on by rocks. Simple rocks. Apparently at the Shedd Aquarium, they introduce them over a weeks' time and watch the birds get to it... building nests with the rocks, stealing particularly appealing rocks from others' nests.

I don't know enough about penguins (though I did see "March of the Penguins"), but perhaps the appearance of rocks in their displays (just where, do you suppose, the penguins think these rocks are coming from, I wonder?) signals springtime for the penguins because as ice and snow melt, more rocks should become apparent. And, truth be told, if you're going to lay some eggs, wouldn't you rather do it on rocks than on ice?

I guess similarly, having a well-appointed boudoir could be more inspirational than, say, staring at milk crates piled with graying socks.

Still, what about the penguin who prefers his mate a little pudgy around the edges? What of a female penguin that likes the guy with the small rocks because those big rocks are just way too hard to climb up?

In love as in life, there's just no telling.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Bad Case of the ________.

It's allergy season again. (Isn't that the beginning of one of those "Ask your doctor about Zertinase" -type ads?) But aah, yes, the marketers know how to launch their volleys just at the time temperatures in the half-tundra part of Wisconsin hit springlike mid-sixties. (Heck, mid-fifties would even do it). The same way stores can alternate their stocks with rubber boots up front or snowshovels, depending on mother nature's current whim.

Aside from advertising, I could tell you that it's allergy season because my poor (and until now, unaffected) toddler had watery eyes and a runny nose in addition to his spring fever which kept him cumulatively at the park for four hours the other day.

Somehow, allergies seem to be a particularly American problem. It seems like almost every suburban child I know is allergic to something (ranging from the annoying to the life-threatening). It seems to go along with Americans' ever-present stomach and heartburn issues (the year-round target of those drug ads, along with E.D., which will not be discussed here).

I remember my husband telling me that when he came to this country, he kept seeing all these ads for heartburn relief. He didn't know what heartburn was (I think he's also probably never had it in his life, which also means that it ranked lower on the list of vocabulary to know). He thought to himself, "What is this terrible plague of heartburn that Americans have?" Until he realized what the translation of heartburn was, that is, and thought we were all cuckoo.

Aaah, the American epidemics. In the interest of self-disclosure, I must admit that I am a frequent sufferer of heartburn (that was, until I started on Protonix, which I love, though not as much as I love my Zoloft) and I have many known allergies (like to dust, mold and mollusks-- don't ask) as well as mere sensitivities-- like to green peppers and cooked onions.

So my question is: are we all just whacked? I mean, I know I'm somewhat whacked, but come on... I can't be just making this shit up in my spare time. And, while I'd like to blame it on the ancestral inbreeding of my tribe, I come up short given the fact that it seems like all Americans-- whether Jew, Gentile or Athiest-- seem to have similar issues, albeit perhaps not all at once. (I consider myself abundantly gifted in this and so many ways!)

I've heard people explain that the rise in allergies is partially due to people over-cleaning, having super-fastidious homes, using antibacterial agents to do everything from sanitize their hands to their toilet bowls. Let me debunk this at least in my particular case: Love my mom as I do, she was never, I repeat never a good housekeeper when I was a child. Doting, interesting, funny, creative? Yes. Clean and organized? Not so much. I mean, everything looked OK, but I'm not sure I would have eaten off her floor (though, wait a minute-- I guess I did eat off her floor). Well, you know what I mean.

And I certainly won't win any awards for housecleaning, either.

Which leaves us with a few other options: other environmental factors, and genetics. Well, I've got the genetics one down pat. And I don't think in environment we're winning anything, either. Despite the fact that midwesterners seem to feel immune to big bad urban pollution, we've got lots of other pollution (sometimes worse pollution!) of our own in the form of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, fertilizers and god-knows-what-else floating around in our air and water. (I wish I could find the study I'm thinking of, which I saw a while ago, but apparently men in the midwest have lower sperm counts than those in big cities precisely because they have higher exposure to these environmental toxins).

All else aside, I wish that I could say that aside from medicating ourselves to the next side of kingdom come and hermetically sealing ourselves in bubbles, I'm not sure what there is to be done about all of this. I was intrigued, though, and somewhat horrified by this article that I saw in the NYT about a chain of hotels offering purified, anti-allergenic, ozone-blasted rooms.

On one hand, what total overkill! How absurd! On the other hand, a small dream fulfilled! I always suffer when I have to stay in hotels. My suffering is twofold: The curtains, carpets, linens, the mattresses and pillows (especially bad) harbor dust mites which make me stuff up, have a dry itchy throat and not be able to sleep; I also suffer from extreme cootie-sensitivity. You don't have to show me some infrared light to convince me of all the small particles of human skin, fluids (oh my lord let's not go there) that are flying around in your typical hotel room. I am a human infrared light. I know it's everywhere.

Which reminds me of my friend Elyse, who is also a big cootie-phobe. She told me that she went with her boyfriend to a hotel and she was having a big cootie-freak and was standing, paralyzed. He asked her what was wrong and she told him she was freaking out about cooties. This being early on in their relationship, he didn't know about her cootie issues, and being German, he didn't understand the word cooties. She explained, "cooties are invisible, non-existant germs that give you the skeeves." (She then explained the skeeves).

He knew just what to do. He took out an imaginary can of anti-cootie spray and sprayed down the bed. "Does that help?" he asked. "Actually, sort of," she said. "Now can you do the couch?"

Monday, March 19, 2007


You might think I've been sitting on mine for a while now. Or perhaps you understand me more than I think, and you know that I haven't been doing the let-mommy-eat-bonbons routine. (Who invented that one, anyway? Where are all these supposed bonbon-eating mommies, FOX reality-show programming aside?)

Partially I have been keeping busy. Partially I have just not been feeling artful. Partially I have been feeling awful. Cycling through all of that on a daily basis exhausts me enough that I'm back at the crossword puzzles again in the evening, much to the dismay of my husband (I sometimes call him my "Hals-band", which is German for collar).

Somehow the beginning of spring is often like this for me. It's like you feel as if you have all these things to do (spring cleaning, change your life, do something meaningful, be everything to everyone, garden) and yet it's still too early to do most or many of them. And when the time comes to do them, you're too overwhelmed to do any of them.

Apparently, despite the popular notion that people go off the deep end at the holidays, more people go off their rockers in the springtime, or so my German psychiatrist once told me. We mused about why that would be: is it simply an evolutionary attunement to the seasons gone haywire? I.E., our bodies are gearing up for a period of increased activity for survival (establishing new crops or searching for fresh food after a long, sparse winter)? Could it be the sudden surge of color into the world and into the veins? (Our appointments were often spent talking about things like this, or politics or art. Much better than "How crazy do you feel today? Crazier than last week?")

This morning as I turned out of our street I saw a telltale sign: The first horsefly of the season holding on behind the side mirror as I accelerated. Last year, after moving in in August, our house was full of the suckers. We postulated that they proliferated in the presence of the actual horses that live at the nearby actual farm. Their entrance was facilitated by the open doors for the movers who stowed our lives up to the rafters.

Now outside it is variably warm, apparently warm enough for the first resurgence or spawn. I guess with flies you speak of generations. Still, it's hard to see spring quite yet. We're still overlooking a few grayish piles of snowy slush that my son likes to trample through on his way back from the park. The snowdrifts left glacial deposits of sand, glass, wrappers and glass, which rim the sidewalks and lawns that are trying, trying to think about a start.

Monday, March 05, 2007


This morning it felt as though I had passed through some invisible wall and glimpsed a parallel universe. Parallel truly-- I was watching and listening to other moms who I know casually from mom'n'tot music class and the like. We were sitting there at the open gym on the fake turf as our kids swooped around us like seagulls-- snapping up organic cheddar bunnies and stealing lacrosse baskets from one another.

One of the women has twin boys who are 21 months, but developmentally a bit behind because they were preemies. Last week she started to notice that one of them was crossing his eyes. I told her that I'd call the doctor if I were her. She seemed to shrug it off then-- denial? This week she says that she called the ophthalmologist and they got her in right away. Good thing she had listened to us. (I am thinking to myself: OK, your son suddenly shows signs of what could be a severe neurological disorder, and you are wondering whether to take him to the doctor?). Oh, I forgot to add that she is married to a doctor-- a resident, actually, as are all these women.

Another woman comes up. I know from one of the other moms that she just had a miscarriage at 13 weeks. Ouch. I sat down next to her. Although I don't know her very well, I tried to engage her. I told her that I, too, had a miscarriage, and tried to give her the opportunity to talk about it if she wanted to. On the edge of sobbing the entire time, she told me that she was upset because she felt like she wasn't going to have another child (her boy is 2 1/2) and she didn't want to come to terms with that.

I said, "Well, you don't know that. But that's not to decide right now. You have to take care of yourself and your son right now and heal physically and mentally. Could it be that you won't be able to have another kid? Possibly. But as much as you want it and feel like you have to have another kid, you were a person before you had a child. You need to get back in touch with that person and see that there's a lot of life worth living, no matter what happens. And you have a beautiful boy right now."

She looked at me like I had ten heads. I think I lost her around where I said that she was a person before she had a child. You know, like a person with interests. With things she's good at. With a pupose and with humor and knowledge. It pierced me that she absolutely did not feel that way. Not at all.

She had to follow her child, who was a bit too forcefully trying to impose a frisbee as headgear on another child. She walked away.


After she walked away another mom who was sitting there said, "OK, how about a thank you for the flowers I sent? All I can say is that I'm the bigger person. I'm the bigger person. She may have problems with me, but she could at least say thank you for the flowers I sent." She continued, addressing me: "Don't listen to anything she says. She's just looking for attention. For people to feel bad for her. She doesn't have many friends, so she wants people to feel bad for her. Well I don't. I've done what I should have done, and now I'm over it."

I didn't get it. I obviously didn't realize that I was in the "other" universe. I tried to reason, "Well, maybe she felt uncomfortable here because you're pregnant, so many other women here are pregnant. Maybe that makes her feel weird. I can understand that."

The woman replied, "Well you know what, if she has a problem with me being pregnant, she should just get over it. Me being pregnant has nothing to do with her miscarriage. And I've tried to be nice to her. I'm the bigger person, you know."

Yeah, I know, I thought. You're the bigger person, I get it.


As with most things, the events described above are not as simple as they seem. Yet there must be some strong protective, almost animalistic reason that all three women (the mom of twins included) acts so self-involved.

I saw the patterns before, but today sort of solidified it when at moments I tried to connect their stories, to empathize with one or another. To show interest for their concerns. To inspire them to some sort of solidarity. We're in this together, I thought.

But we're not in it together.

Of course there's the element of reproduction that, by definition, means furthering our own genetics and our own interests in the world. No one sits at home and glances down at their pregnant belly hoping that the child resulting will turn out to be of the opposite political party. Pacifists don't wish for war-mongering children. Stiff-upper-lip types don't wish for pansies just in order to add a dash of diversity into the world.

Yet, beyond that, I think there are two very prevalent, and very basic drives behind having progeny: having something of one's own that one can shape, control, and care for. And, perhaps even stronger: insurance that one will never be alone.

I would argue that, no matter how cultured, how aware, how intellegent one is, these basic elements are somehow present in the drive to have children. Kept in check and dealt with consciously and purposefully, I think these things are simply part of a natural instinct. However, when someone is not conscious of these elements, in denial or acting out of pain or fear, these drives can be dangerous.

Children, as we all know, are not necessarily a healing salve for a broken relationship. They are not a replacement for having thoughts, feelings, ideas, skills and plans of our own. They are not us. They are not, nor should they be treated as, a stand-in or a replacement for our own feelings or ambitions. The more we project on them, the more disservice we do to ourselves, to our relationships, and to them.


My son, like most of his contemporaries, loves Thomas the train. Last week when he was feeling like doo-doo I took him to Target and got him the Ginormous Book of Thomas Stickers. He picks out a few a day and puts them on his chest, upside down, so that when he looks down at his chest he can see them right-side-up.

Of the over 700 stickers, there are only two of his favorite character. (Ironically, his favorite Thomas character is Harold, the helicopter). I must admit, even though it irks me that Thomas stuff is so prevalent (and highway-robbery expensive), I always like to see Harold. Partly because when I see him, I always think "Don't be a helicopter mom". Don't try to solve all your son's problems. Don't expect him to solve yours. Be present, but don't hover. Helicopters are alone-goers. Because of their blades, they can't get too close to anyone.