Friday, December 30, 2005


It's Friday and the kids have been home all week. They are running out of productive ways to amuse themselves. Why can't they see that perhaps jumping on the trampoline with rocks is not such a good idea? And that carrying sheets of plywood across the lawn when there are 50mph gusts of wind is also not a good alternative?

So today it's errand day. The idea being to finish up some long delayed errands and to keep the kids out of trouble. Delayed because when the kids are home, I tend to put off errands, and after a week-and-a-half without school, there are lots of errands to do.

It starts out badly at the library. At our small local branch the kids are running around, chasing each other, giggling incessantly. A little talk to them about how to amuse themselves without disturbing other patrons goes unheeded. I want to leave immediately, but I came here to get something for me, and I want to get it. I tell them we will abandon the trip to the Lego store (part of a Christmas present and how I got them to clean the house and leave the house in the first place) if they can't control themselves. They can't control themselves.

As I am getting gas I tell them how disappointed I am in their behavior at the library. Okay, so we talk about it and come up with this deal: we will do another errand, their chance to redeem themselves. If they can listen to me and follow directions on the next errand, we will go to the Lego store. If not, no go.

It's about a 20-minute drive, so I get in the car after the gas and ask if everyone is buckled in. They assure me this is true. I have put a couple of new Bill Harley CDs in the car. I ask which one they want to listen to first. Kadin says, "mine!" Rees says, "mine!" Okay, another tack. One is stories, one is songs, I ask them if they want to listen to stories or songs. "Songs" says Kadin, "stories" says Rees. I figure that gives me license to choose since Kadin's is stories and Rees's is songs. I say "I am putting on Kadin's, it's stories." Nobody can protest that. Phew!

On the highway, Kadin says, "Look Rees, look!" and as he points to something he stands up and turns around in his seat. "Hey! Kadin! You're not buckled in!" Usually he is very good about this. Problem is, he can't do it himself. As I am looking for a place to pull over I say, "Kadin, hand me the buckle, here, Rees, please buckle it." Kadin screams, "No! I want Mama to do it!" "I can't, I'm driving," I reply. He has become the boss of the world in the worst way lately. His view of what is important can only be categorized as ridiculous. I find a place to pull over and he finally lets Rees buckle him in. Sheesh!

Then it is a trip to a certain DIY store to buy a dryer vent. No, not fun, but they have the Lego store to look forward to. I am ready to cancel the whole endeavor, but this is their chance.

Only problem is, I can't find the DIY store. It is right there, bigger than life, on the right side of the road, with a huge sign in front of it, but danged if I can figure out how to get there. It's at an intersection of three major highways and I blow it a couple of times, taking at least a extra 30-minute detour of circling round and round with no exit in sight and one wrong move after another. I feel I am being sorely tested. Luckily the kids are riveted by the new Bill Harley CD with tales of swamp monsters and the pirate Dirty Joe. The songs and stories have this really funny way of seeing the world from both the child's and the adult's perspective, so it's giving me some respite as well. Finally, after driving about 50 endless, pointless miles, we get to the parking lot.

Will the kids let me pick a dryer vent? Sure, but they have to fiddle with and fondle just about everything in sight so concentration is at a minimum and who knew there would be so many perplexing options? I just want a dryer vent. I sure hope I get the right thing. I measured and everything, but... oh well, guess I can always return it if I get the wrong one, but the thought of coming back fills me with dread…

Then I need the bathroom and one graciously appears near us at the back of the store. Rees goes into the men's, Kadin refuses all options. I need to go, so I look at Kadin and say, "I am going in here, you are welcome to join me." "Never!" he replies, his stock reply these days. No sooner am I in a stall than I hear an ear-piercing shriek of "Mama! Where are you?" I hear the woman who was washing her hands at the sink as I came in go out to investigate. "It's okay, your mom's in there," she says. Kadin refuses all help continuing to pitifully and convincingly wail, "I want my mom!" "I pinched my finger!" "I want my mommy!" Another woman in the stall next to me goes out to help. He keeps up the "I want my mom!" line. I know he is a little bit hurt and a lot angry and even more stubborn. He will not come to me, I cannot go to him, he will not calm down for these other women. I quickly finish and tend to his minor wound. Scornful eyes look at me from everywhere. Heads wag. Sigh.

We pick up some teak oil for the deck furniture and head to the checkout. This is when the one good thing of the day happens. The woman asks me how much the dryer vent is. I say I don't remember (I don't but it was somewhere around $15) and she says not to worry about it and only charges me for the teak oil. Wow! That saves me an errand to return it at least!

Things are looking up, it is time for the Lego store. We find the mall and park at the door closest to the store. We find the store and this kids happily fill the boxes they got for Christmas. Then the snag. Kadin takes a long time, debating this, debating that, wishing he had this, wishing he had that. Finally his box is full and then overfull. I tell him he has to put some back. He refuses. I take some out of his overfull box and put some of them in Rees' underfull box. He is incensed and starts wailing. I try to explain to him that I am trying to help him (knowing it will all end up in the same place, but how to convince a 4 year old?). He continues to make a scene. I tell him we can walk away right there if he wants to. I take four big pieces out of his box, now it works. I tell him his choice is to have the box as it is or leave without it. He is livid. Finally, I manage to get the box put in a bag, return the four big pieces, and distract him to play with the Legos at the play table.

Now it is lunchtime. We can go to the food court. I am hungry. Rees is hungry. Kadin wants to stay at the play table. "When will you be ready to leave?" I ask. "When I am finished with this," is the reply. That sounds reasonable. "Finish up and we'll go," I say, hoping for once for a graceful transition. It takes a while, but finally he is ready and we go to eat. We are in line at the Burger King and Kadin says, "I want McDonalds." I tell him there is no McDonalds. He starts crying again. This boy is lucky to be at Burger King, I tell you!

Lunch is reasonably uneventful, but the food court has taken us to the opposite end of the mall from the car. Kadin is moving like molasses. He is in his own world, playing a game, walking in a certain pattern on the colored bricks on the floor. Rees and I try to walk slowly, but Kadin is making no attempt to stay with us. It is agony. Slowly, slowly we make progress. I have my eye on the door near the car. We are finally almost there, just a few yards to go. "I have to go to the bathroom," Kadin announces. If only he'd used the one at the DIY store!

Okay, find a bathroom. Luckily there is one not too far from the door, but it is down one of those long corridors. I tell Kadin to follow me. He is again lost in his own world. I gently take his hand and guide him reluctantly to the bathroom. He goes, I go, Rees goes, and we all move off down the corridor again to the desired doors. This time we make it. Just outside the door, Rees says, "Where's the Lego bag?" The Lego bag! The bathroom! I left it in the bathroom! I turn around and sprint back to the bathroom. Rees is hot on my heels. Kadin is moving so slowly I figure I will be there and back before he has moved an inch. .

In moments I am at the bathroom and just coming out is a nice older woman with a Lego bag. Panting, I eye it, she says, "Did you leave this in the stall?" Yes, thanks! I take it and run back with Rees to where we last saw Kadin. Predictably, he has now disappeared. I can't believe it, or maybe I can. How far could he have gotten?

Rees and I re-enter the mall and I call Kadin's name in a loud, clear voice. A woman nearby asks if he was wearing blue pants and a striped shirt. Yes! He ran down that way, she points. We pursue, find him, and then make the agonizing trek back to the car. The car! Hooray!

I know that I should follow my instincts, drive directly home and take a nap while the boys play with their new Legos, but no, I am a glutton for punishment and determined to finish up the one last errand of the day, a simple exchange at another store at a different mall. It can't get any worse.

It doesn't. But at the last mall there is the final incident of who pushed which button to open which door and how one or the other of the boys won't come in or go out or has to do it again. It's all a horrible blur. We soldier on and are back at the car and on the way home at last.

More of Bill Harley on the CD player. This time it is a great story about the skunk family and the middle child who refuses to set the table. Her older brother demands it of her. She argues back in a singsong voice, "You're not the boss of me. You're not the boss of me. You might be the boss of you, but you're not the boss of me." This angers her brother who calls in the mother who is similarly incensed, then her father, then the chief of police, and the judge (each with charming extra details thrown in), but her argument remains the same throughout and she refuses to set the table singing her self-righteous little song. Finally she is taken before the stinky skunk King who says, "Oh, she won’t set the table? Well…” Then he turns to the child and says, “Will you please set the table?" And she says, "Yes, since you asked so nicely, I'd be happy to." And all is well in the skunk world. Amazing how a change of perspective can do that.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Sincere melancholy

Just so you know, "Party in a bare tree" is a suitably melancholy lyric for Kadin. For him such sentiments are not negative things. He seems quite in tune with and accepting of life's bittersweet offerings. To the tune of "Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree" Kadin has come up with these lyrics, sung with genuine awe and love (Rex is a cat):

Oh Rexy-poo oh Rexy-poo
Dee dee di dee di dee dee
Oh Rexy-poo oh Rexy-poo
Dee dee di dee di dee dee

The cats are come to bite and scratch
You'll never know their tears are sad

Oh Rexy-poo oh Rexy-poo
Dee dee di dee di dee dee

And a party in a bare tree

The kids have picked up on our twelve day theme and the "Twelve Days of…" (insert Christmas, Solstice, whatever!) song is very popular around here. Kadin's version goes:

On the fifth day of Christmas/Solstice my jewler gave to me:
Five golden rings
Four calling birds
Three French friends
Two turtle gloves
And a party in a bare tree

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Twelve days of...

There is so much controversy over this time of year. In addition to the overwhelming consumer-oriented frenzy, there is also the "Christmas" vs. "Holiday" tree debates, the boycott of Target because they won't put the word "Christmas" on their signs, the (understandable) resentment of people who don't celebrate Christmas in any form, etc. You are forced to "pick a side," and even in not choosing you are by default making a statement. Sigh.

Whether you like it or not, the fact remains, there IS a lot of energy around at this time of year. Is it up to each of us to find what works for ourselves and our families because it is impossible to ignore the whole thing or be passive. That alone takes energy!

I really do enjoy the idea of a celebration of light at this darkest time of year. I love the lighted trees and the candles. I also like the idea of bringing in the evergreens to remind us of spring. They smell fantastic! And that deep red color on berries and clothes is just so perfectly warming in winter. The darkness, the end of the year, invites a time for calm introspection.

For the past few years our family has been doing its own sort of ceremony starting on the darkest day (the 21st) and going for twelve days, through the 1st of January. This includes both the natural cycles of the sun and the not-so-natural but now ingrained holiday/vacation season.

Each night, for twelve nights, we light a candle, sing a song, and focus on a theme for the day. This works great for us, but I don't know what to call it.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Brotherly insults

The boys have this new game where one of them will angrily shout the name of the other. “Kadin!” Rees will say harshly. When Kadin looks up, Rees will quickly change tack and say in a gentle, goofy voice, “You’re silly.” Kadin will laugh, enjoy the adrenaline rush, and they’ll do it all over again. Sometimes the response is “nice shoes” or some other such silly non-sequitor. Why is this fun? Is it the tension and release that they like?

Needless to say, I don’t enjoy this game so much. Bad feng shui.

They have another, similarly passive aggressive type game where they take turns reciting dialog from movies. It is usually sort of sarcastic, harsh, but funny dialog. One dialog, said in a irritated, reluctant tone, goes:
"Thank you!"
"You're welcome!"
"Don't mention it!"
"I won't!"
"Bye to you!"
"Same to you!"
We have heard that about 586 times.

Another example is the JibJab version of "This Land is Your Land" where Bush and Kerry exchange insults. The boys loved reenacting that.

Is it some sort of sibling thing? Oh joy!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Pearl's close encounter

We keep the cats in the bedroom during the day when the workers are here. The cats are just too curious to have around construction. Not that it is to so great when the workers leave, either.

The workers took the sheet rock off a wall with a furnace vent in it. It has been really cold and the house is not insulated (insulation by Christmas is the goal!). The cats found that it was nice and warm down under the floor in the vent. The furnace is going most of the time and I shudder to think what our bill will be this month…

Yesterday I hadn't seen Pearl for a little while. Then I could hear some distant meowing. I looked around for her a bit, with no luck. The meowing didn't stop, so I looked in the furnace closet where it sounded like it was coming from. She wasn't in there either. Where could she be? Finally, incredulous, not knowing where else to look, I opened the cover to the furnace filter and she crawled out. She had apparently crawled down one of the air returns into the furnace.

I thought I'd better check to make sure the furnace was okay. When I looked at the thermostat, it was blank. Nothing. Nada. Great, she had broken our new furnace! I checked the circuit breaker and that was okay. I opened up the furnace panel to see if she'd jiggled any wires loose. Everything looked attached.

From what I could see, it looked like it worked like this: the return air vents, where she likely was exploring, attach to the shaft in the ceiling/floor. It is a straight drop down about 12ft to the filter area. The air would then pass through the filter and into a big drum with a fan or turbine that would then push the air back up into furnace, warm it, and push it up into the house.

Pearl was in the turbine area. I shudder to think what would happen if she was exploring in there and it turned on and started spinning fast with lots of force. Would she have been chopped up or cooked? What a tragic mess that would have been.

I called the contractor to see if he had any suggestions for easy things I could try to get the furnace going again. His suggestion was to reset the furnace by turning the electricity off and then on again. This proved successful and we had both a cat and functioning furnace in a matter of moments.

Thinking about it some more, I think Pearl probably did go in the turbine and then the furnace did go on. At that point, some safety system set in because there was a large heavy object on the turbine. The furnace shut off to avoid burning itself out.

We heard Pearl, found her, and let her out. Phew! Glad to have a cat and to also know the safety system in the furnace worked.

I put in a new filter (she pretty badly dented the first), and made the return air vents too narrow for cats to fit through. Pearl seemed a little upset by the whole thing, though, so I don't think she'd venture down there again. Curiosity and cats and all that.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Lighting design

It is now coming down to decision time on much of the house. For the first time in our lives we are able to decide what we want and where we want it. For years we have been mastering the creative art of making do, but now we have a choice and we must decide. Its a new and interesting concept. A skill we have not cultivated. The electricians are coming so we need to know where we want light and what we want it to look like. If only we really knew what we wanted and what it would look like!

The design of lighting has been an interesting lesson is a couple of ways. First, there is the design, and then there is the dealing with the electricians.

The architect designed most of the rooms with symmetrically laid out recessed can lights in grids on the ceilings. I am fine with recessed can lights and the symmetrical grid thing seemed sensible. Until the electricians came. Turns out they couldn't exactly put things symmetrically because of the way the roof is shaped, where the rafters are, where the heating ducts go, etc. The electricians are like, "we can't do this, we can't do this..." Arghhh!

After the invention day we went over to a friend's house for dinner. She had added on a room last summer and had the same architect. I wanted to see how her lighting was. It turned out to be different, but neat. Instead of symmetrical grids of lights, she had more functional clusters of lights in the ceiling: over the kitchen counters where you would stand, in the corners of the room where there were easy chairs. It looked nice, organic, and functional.

And then there are the electricians. With most of the workers who have been to the house, I have felt like they had my interest at heart. If something was difficult, but better, they would be willing to do it. The electricians were different. They were more pushy. "It would be a whole lot easier for us if you'd put the switches on this's not going to work this way, if I were you I'd..." Blah, blah, blah. It was getting annoying. I didn’t want to intentionally make their lives difficult but it isn’t their house! The worst was the “if I were you” part because it was patently clear that their taste was very different from mine. How to say, “Yuk! What a terrible idea!” in a tactful way?

After debriefing about it with everyone from the carpenters to the contractor and friends, I felt much more able to make decisions and tell the electricians what I wanted. Friend Adrienne gave me the best response when they gave me the "this won't work" news. The correct response, my new mantra, is: "What are the options?"

And, if I had to do it again, I'd forego symmetry in favor of functional constellations. Works, looks cool, and if something doesn't fit exactly as drawn, you have more options in the end.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Invention day

We went to the Design Expo at CU where undergraduates in the industrial design program show off their projects. I thought it would be fun to see clever designs and I was even thinking I might be interested in getting a degree in the program.

The expo was crowded and a bit disappointing. I was mostly struck by just how YOUNG the students were. There were all these fresh-faced mop tops. And that made me feel old. There may have been some really interesting things in the mix, but it was hard to see because of the crowds and because the presentation by the students left something to be desired. But what did I expect? Did I mention they are young?

The most interesting exhibits—at least to the kids, which is where my attention was diverted—seemed to be the permanent exhibits in the engineering building. The building was kind of like a children's museum with perpetual motion pendulums, tectonic movement sand tables, square wheels, rhythmic patterns made from squirting water, and so on. Parts of the building have been left exposed and there are signs explaining construction techniques. We'll have to go back another time when it is less crowded to explore these at leisure. Greg also says there is a cafe with good coffee in the building. Sounds like a pleasant future outing.

The most amazing thing I saw was not an invention by the students, but something the students used to make their inventions. As one woman explained it to me, they have a three-dimensional printer. Yes, a printer that produces 3-D. She said you design a three-dimensional shape on a CAD program on the computer screen and then you "print" it out. The printer lays down layers of plastic and can make any shape you specify. I asked if you could make anything: fountains, sculptures, etc. She said yes, as long as it was smaller than about 18 inches. The idea is like a dream come true. You can envision and object then just print it out. Can't wait until that is old hat!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Nia is my exciting new discovery of the morning that I just have to share with everyone.

Nia stands for Neuromuscular Integrative Action and this is the latest exercise THING for me. Yes, I have found IT for the moment. A while back, I wrote about how I am now embracing new exercise fads and more recently about how I want to seek more outlets for creative expression. Well, Nia takes the cake for both of these.

I first experienced Nia a little over a month ago when I went to a breastfeeding and parenting conference. On the second day of the conference, this being Colorado, they had early morning exercise classes for those who must exercise each day. One of those early morning options was Nia. I had heard about Nia, but was a little intimidated to try it since I didn’t know what it was. (In fitness-obsessed Boulder it is easy to get in over your head.) But at this conference, most everybody was new to Nia so it seemed a safe place to give it a go.

I had a great time, so I asked around for good places to do Nia in Boulder, then picked up a schedule from one of them and finally, this morning, over a month later, I had time to give it a try. It was fantastic.

In the lobby they sold interesting clothes and jewelry and I was told the first class was free. I walked back into a dance studio painted a rich, dark red. The mirror-lined walls were draped with strings of lights. Candles sat on a railing. It was exotic and inviting. Not like the sparse gyms or yoga rooms where exercise classes are usually offered.

The instructor welcomed everyone and said that if anyone felt lost at any point and couldn’t grasp the movement, her advice was to not think too hard about it, but to just feel it, to make a kinesthetic connection. I liked that. It seemed easy to be transported away from your mind and into your body in this funky atmosphere. This wasn't about discipline or effort or skill, but about expression. There were no harsh lights or pictures of proper form.

Nia is like yoga, martial arts, and dance, with a good combination of structure and freedom. You could say it is also like aerobics, but it seemed to me that the aerobic exercise part of it was just a nice side effect of the movements: incidental, but not the goal. To me, it was like a really fun dance class where you were first guided a few times in a simple step, and then encouraged to embellish it and elaborate in your own way. It was everything I like about Yoga Booty Ballet but with more freedom.

Some of my favorite parts of the Nia class this morning were the parts that seemed to be based on martial arts. We punched, we kicked, we yelled, and nobody was judging us or watching us. I feel that it was a great kind of self-defense class, a great release, a chance to pretend to be something else. It reminded me of the one time I tried (and liked!) African dance. It was dynamic and expressive and powerful. I felt strong and good.

The music was interesting, funky, and varied: lots of world music and good dance beats. Sometimes the instructor would be didactic and tell us to “do this for four counts,” other times she would direct us to free dance. Mostly she would give more interesting directions like “follow your hands,” “open yourself,” or “melt.” There was no strict “technique” but more suggestions and images that pushed you in new directions. It was like being quickly taught a song, singing it together a few times, and then being encouraged to lose yourself in harmonies.

Basically, though, it was just dancing. So I ask myself, why don’t I just put on a CD and dance? I guess that would simpler. But it would be similar to saying, why don’t I just sing any old song or make up my own tunes? That just wouldn’t be the same. It was great to have the basic structure of the steps to work with and the atmosphere of the room and the other dancers to work off of. It was great to have the instructor telling me to do something specific and then telling me to do whatever I wanted. If I was just told to dance for an hour, I don’t know what I would do. I would get bored or get into a rut, but this was a perfect balance of structure and freedom. It was demanding and creative at the same time. I know with Yoga I can and do practice on my own, but I benefit immensely from a teacher and a more structured class. I do more in class, I have guidance, and I go farther.

Yoga is great and I hope will always be something I practice, but Yoga is more about discipline and correct form and structure. It too is about combining body and mind, but I would not say it is creative in the way that Nia is. I loved that creative part of Nia, it was like the missing link. A Pilates DVD that I have (thanks again Clare!) is presented by a female student of Joseph Pilates as the “true Pilates method.” She has something in there about how music should never be allowed into a “real” Pilates workout, that the movement should be “pure” and there should be no distractions. Oh bother! That was such a boring DVD! I was not motivated by it at all. As far as I could tell, it was full of strict, nearly impossible, “pure” movements, with a rigid, didactic instructor yelling at these perfect women to do better. Not for me. Not at least until I am a physical goddess like the women in that one!

But back to the wonderful Nia. To conclude my rant about how enthralled I am by this new-to-me discovery, and in case you still have no idea what I am talking about, I will close with the description of Nia given by its founders, Debbie and Carlos Rosas. Their description is still vague (you really have to try it to understand), but it rings true to me, and at least then you have it from the horse’s mouth:

Nia is a personal growth, mind-body-spirit fitness program. It is a "living system," that works with the natural wisdom and intelligence of the body, mind, spirit and emotions. Nia supports the Pleasure Principle: If it feels good keep doing it, if it hurts, stop! The blueprint of Nia is practical, experiential, and focuses on internal guidance to change and develop awareness. Process oriented, the format is user-friendly. Nia empowers students and teachers to make their own movement choices by offering students a flexible structure they can personally modify to suit their needs. Nia combines a diverse blend of Eastern and Western movements, concepts and philosophies from the worlds of the healing arts (love), martial arts (mindfulness), and dance (technique). Nia reaches people emotionally, in their hearts, motivating them to get fit and healthy by creating a deep personal desire to explore their potential and love their growth. Fitness, health, well-being, and self-love naturally result from the magnetic Nia experience. What makes Nia so innovative is its unlimited adaptability. Not only can people of all kinds participate, but a wide range of therapeutic, wellness, self-growth and educational models can effectively integrate Nia.

Monday, November 21, 2005


I'm back from my fantastic, refreshing, 48-hour jaunt, and here are a few of the things I learned in Boston:

The T still uses quaint tokens, but now they're $1.25 each.

The buses cost 90¢. An amount that is confusing. But on some buses you pay when you get off, so cheapskates like me can count their change the whole time they are riding.

The landmark for Pine Street in Belmont (of B&K's new abode, THE destination for Saturday night) is a Beech tree.

It is pretty easy to do most of your Christmas shopping at one shop in Harvard Square between the T and the bus.

I really, really like spending time with old friends. It feels so right. (Okay, I already knew that, but it is nice to be reminded anew.)

There is now a Silver Line to Logan airport from South Station. Easy and convienient.

There is a day spa at terminal C, but late on Sunday night, it is not happening.

The grilled chicken salads at the airport Burger King are the same as the ones at Legal Seafood and the deli, but cost half as much.

Thanks, everyone, for such a great time! Let's do it again soon!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Expressive urges

Cathy bravely picked me up from the airport at 5am and I spent the rest of Thursday night and Friday night chez Cathy and Stu who run a delightful bed and breakfast. I enjoyed seeing them and their place and was inspired by their sense of humor and the unique and beautiful collection of objects in their home.

Stu works in a museum and is a fan of folk art or "outsider art" (he himself being the great papier maché artist). It is difficult to separate art from consumerism these days, but something about that drive to create, no matter what, is so compelling to me. Especially now.

Some quotes from a book I found next to my guest bed called John Maizel's Raw Creation: Outsider Art and Beyond I think are worth sharing in a blog (blogs, after all, being their own form of creative self expression done mostly by “outsiders” or “nobodies,” alas!). The book begins with a discussion of what has been called "the art of the insane." As early as 1857, doctors and psychologists were collecting and discussing the art that came out of various mental institutions. First this was done to try to understand more about mental illness, but later it was used also to understand the drive to create.

One of these doctors, Hanz Prinzhorn, published an influential book in 1922 called Bidnerie der Geisteskranken (Artistry of the Mentally Ill) where he detailed his theory of the creative process. He ideas were based on his collection of visual art made by patients in institutions. He was convinced that "visual creativity was to be found not only in the realm of the cultured or the educated, but was an undeniable human trait, present within each of us from childhood onwards." He then came up with six basic human urges or tendencies that in combination could manifest themselves as different forms of artistry: the expressive urge, the playful or active urge, the decorative or ornamental urge, the ordering (rhythm and rule) urge, the copying urge, and the need for symbols." Prinzhorn rejected previous ideas that the art produced by those considered to be mad could somehow have different roots from the 'normal' creative process, arguing that all artistic expression stemmed from the same sources. ...He used the following analogy: As groundwater seeps to the surface and flows toward the stream in many rivulets, many expressive impulses run in many creative paths into the great stream of art. Neither historically nor according to psychological theory does there exist a beginning point. Instead there are many springs which finally transcend all life."

This caught my eye because there are certainly many creative impulses flowing through our house these days. Between the kid's drawings and creations, the house construction, and my own and Greg's thwarted attempts at creating papers or music or things, we are just one big, sometimes dammed up, river of creative energy. I like to think about this theory of six basic impulses and really give these urges the priority they are due, much in the same way that we value sleep and food. I like to think about expressing my urge to be decorative or ordered, or just expressing my expressing urge. It seems so necessary.

Another idea I noticed in the book is how soothing or calming this creative expression can be. There must be something about being in touch with these deep sources and creative urges that is fulfilling. One wood carver, who suffered paranoia and megalomaniacal delusions and had a violent streak, described how he followed some deep intuitions in his work: "When I have a piece of wood in front of me, a hypnosis is in it—if I follow it something comes of it, otherwise there is going to be a fight.” The word “hypnosis” is striking to me. It is the opposite of fighting. It is about following an intuition, an inner form in the wood, not necessarily planning or controlling, but “going with the flow.” That seems so soothing and productive to me. Something to strive for in many parts of life.

Then there is the story of Adolf Wolfli who lived from 1864–1930 and was institutionalized most of his life. When confined, he began drawing and made elaborate books with detailed, compulsive illustrations that told stories about his life. The drawing calmed him.

I was fascinated how his life story changed as he drew. I learned that in the first volumes of his autobiography he describes himself as a “naturalist, poet, writer, draughtsman, composer, farm labourer, dairy-hand, handyman, gardener, plasterer, cement-layer, railway worker, day-labourer, knife grinder, fisherman, boatman, hunter, migrant-worker, grave digger, and soldier of the third Section of the third company of the Emmenthal Battalion. Hooray!" By his last series of volumes, however, he has become "St Adolf II, Master of Algebra, Military Commander-in-Chief and Chief Music-Director, Giant-Theatre-Director, Captain of the Almighty-Giant-Steamship and Doctor of Arts and Sciences, Director of the Algebra and Geography-Textbook-Production Company and Fusilier General. Inventor of 160 original and highly valuable inventions patented for all time by the Russian Tsar and hallelujah the glorious victor of many violent battles against Giants."

Wow, that is quite a transcendence! It seem you can really redefine yourself through creative expression, even if only for a pretend audience.

Finally, to all you bloggers and others with creative urges, met or unmet, I'd like to point out that you do not have to be insane to be creative. Though Wolfli and others were both creative and afflicted with mental illness, that does not mean one is a necessary part of the other.

An alternative theory is that their confinement in institutions allowed them the time and opportunity to express a creativity that was there all along and that this expression calmed them and gave them feelings of purpose and empowerment. Elka Spoerri, curator of Adolf Wolfli's works concludes, "Although Wolfli was not active as an artist before the onset of his illness, he must be viewed as an artist who happened to become afflicted with psychosis. The illness did not awaken any creative capacities that were not already part of his personality. His social origins, however—his life of great poverty and social regimentation as an orphan, hireling and labourer—never permitted him even to think of becoming an artist. His entire life story proved as fateful as his illness and internment."

I am inspired by the ideas in this book. I am inspired to be an "outsider." I'm going to try to notice and to nurture and express creative impulses whether they be to draw, sculpt, organize, compose, write, dance, parent, garden, act, sew, play, build, etc. etc. I like this idea that different people have different combinations of urges and impulses, though we usually don't have the time or the freedom to express them fully. I also like the idea that it doesn’t matter who sees them. The bottom line is that indulging in these impulses feels good, balancing, and fulfilling, so I'm thinking I will try to notice them more and give them a higher priority and a little more expression in myself and in others: Rees' desire to move, Kadin's drawings and stories, Greg's music, your blogs, and so on.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


The construction on the house is not so bad, really. I think what makes all the difference it that I actually like the people who are working on it. The contractor is friendly and very easy to talk to and work with; the carpenters are thoughtful, smart, considerate, tidy, and good at what they do, even if our political views differ. Other people come and go, but these are the steadies. The architect too is good and easy to talk to, so I actually look forward to meeting with these people. Today there was a crowd at the house: the concrete guy Steve, the HVAC guys Tom and Jerry, the drywall guy, etc. I am at the Laundromat doing loads of laundry because it is faster and QUIETER!

The cats love it because they have a dirt floor and the kids love it because there is a big open living room with nothing in it except scaffolding. It’s the perfect setup for boys and pets.

We had dinner at Greg's sister's the other night and Marcy, Greg's cousin who recently moved into a house nearby, was there as well. We were exchanging stories about workmen. Marcy is a very dynamic person who always makes it a point to compliment people and draw out their true nature. She told us how when workmen come, she talks to them about their lives. The result is that at least two have since quit their jobs to find their true path! For example, the security system guy was there and she was making conversation and asking him about his work. At one point she said something like, "It seems that you've made some decisions in life that have really locked you in." An astute observation. He was a security guy, after all. He told her she was right and, when she later called the company, she heard he had quit the next day. She helped free him but needed a new security guy.

My interaction with the workers is not quite so probing. I'm afraid I am not as helpful to them in the long run. I just say, "I am so glad you are here!" Maybe after they are getting close to finishing I can afford to help them find their true calling, but for now I want them here. Remodeling is an expensive hobby, though, so we can’t afford to keep it up for long.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


The kitties are back and endearing themselves to us again. Rex is ever impulsive and ready to jump right in. He has never heard the phrase, "think before you act." Pearl is petite and poised and, as Greg says, "a normal cat." Rex is bigger and clumsier, but really doesn't seem to know that or care.

Stephen, the kitties’ foster father, told us how Pearl would like to jump up on the towel bar when Stephen was taking a shower. She was lithe and good at balancing, and she is tiny. Then Rex would try. He has these amazingly strong paws and arms from trying to clamber up cupboard doors and other improbable surfaces. He will just hang on when he has misjudged a jump. So he would miss the towel bar and hang on with a forelimb or two. It got to the point where the towel bar was coming off the wall, so Stephen had to keep them out of the bathroom.

Rex is the kind of cat who will happily jump into the shower and then be horrified and jump out again. The great part is, he takes it all in stride and doesn't seem to mind being clueless at all. As Greg put it, "you know that pride thing? Rex doesn't seem to have that." And as Stephen put it, "he's missing that feline sense of dignity." And I think that is why we all love him so.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Hip openers

My hips were hurting, and had been for some time. I wasn't sure what it was, but as I was sitting in yoga class, warming up, I overheard another student ask the teacher why he had a hard time opening his hips. The teacher said, "Oh yes, hips are about moving forward in life. You might be having trouble moving forward in your life." Hmmm. Seemed a little presumptuous of her. Couldn't you just have tight hips? Last time, when I hurt my shoulder, it was my inability to open up and accept love. Now it was the hips and how did she know I was at a transition and trying to move forward in life? Well, she didn't, because this conversation had nothing to do with me, but what a coincidence, it was like she read my mind. The one place that felt sore and tight and yes, I do need to move forward in life.

I have been exercising more lately and exploring different yoga DVDs. Some of my favorites include Yoga Booty Ballet (thank you Clare!), which is a very LA sort of cross between yoga and ballet and every other exercise trend of the last decade. In some ways it seems cheesy and superficial, but on the whole it is good, exactly what I need right now. Reasonably interesting, well-rounded workouts with good variety—cardiovascular, weights, abdominals, stretching—and fun music and sets. Then there are the suggestions and adjustments for different ability levels, so I don't feel like a complete failure. Oh yes, and there are helpful affirmations interspersed throughout: "If you don't like what you're doing, change it!" "If you need to rest, rest." "Core strenth build strength of character." "I love myself, I trust myself; I will be myself."

Another yoga DVD features a woman named Rainbeau Mars, also from Hollywood and known as the "yoga teacher to the stars." (Thanks again, Clare!) Her workout is much more traditional yoga, very similar to the classes I take in Boulder. In fact, I wonder if she trained at the same studio. Her mother, Brigitte Mars, lives in Boulder and writes about herbs and nutrition. I met Brigitte at a local store when she sold me some peach-papaya lotion. Anyway, Rainbeau is all about achieving your potential and ultimate beauty. Hip openers definitely being a part of that. Her unique spin is that she sees being self-centered as an important part of your gift to the world. At the end of the workout, during a resting pose where you are lying on the floor like a five-pointed star, she says, "star pose is an opportunity...for deep relaxation...and to active dream...starring...yourself...." Yes, it's all about me, me, me. But maybe in an okay way. She has certainly found her niche.

Finally, on the topic of moving forward in life, I heard a nice quote from BB King when he was interviewed on Fresh Air. He started in Memphis and then when he went to New York for the first time, his agent had some important advice for him. He said, "There will be so many people in New York who are better than you, smarter than you, more talented than you, more attractive than you. And they will be waiting tables. Don't try to be them. You will never be them. Be the one thing they are not: be yourself." It seems BB King took that advice, and I'm glad that he did.

My exciting news of late is that I had a job interview. The first resume I've sent out in nine years. The possibility of a job means a lot to me right now. Rees was up all night the night before the interview throwing up, so that was a bit of a wake-up call: how to go from vomit to interview in less than an hour, but good to know, all the same. Hips have been feeling a lot better too.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


We did a hasty pumpkin carving on Monday before trick-or-treating. The boys were just so excited and full of energy. Having moved in the day before, the house was just so full of junk and debris. While needing to talk to the contractor, I was able to spend about two seconds helping the boys carve. Of course scraping out the pumpkins was "too hard" for them. But as always, it worked out in the end. Kadin drew an elaborate "grumpy" face and Rees did a minimalist happy face. We are very happy with them. It is so sad when they decay after all that work, but there is beauty in that too. Each year we are forced to make a new ephemeral creation. And each year I am glad that we do.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Duct tape

We've had a lot going on these days. The house has a roof and walls so we've moved back into the construction site. The raccoons have moved out; the Ninjas have moved in. Halloween and daylight savings made it all that much more disorienting. As usual, I was talked into making costumes for the kids. Not that we don't already have a zillion dress-up clothes, but they wanted something new, of course. This year it was Ninja costumes. The ones for sale in the store were okay, but I thought they could just dress in black and we could fashion some shoulder armor for them. Only problem was, my sewing machine was in storage. Undaunted, I bought three different kinds of metallic fabric: silver tablecloth material, sliver fabric, and shiny blue metallic fabric. I started with the tablecloth material that didn’t really need hemming and fashioned the shoulder armor using duct tape. It worked okay, so I planned to continue with the fabric. I thought I could go to a friend's house to borrow a sewing machine, but then thought that by the time I arranged to go over to someone's house, got there, chatted with them, etc., it would end up taking much longer than needed, so I set out hand sewing it. That was fun, but slow. Then I got the brilliant idea that there might be a sewing machine set up and ready to go at Kadin's preschool. Since I was there twice a day anyway, it wouldn’t take so much arranging. I asked the secretary if there was a machine, and she said no but that she could bring me hers by the time I came to pick Kadin up. That worked great. So here are the Ninja costumes, the one on the left is duct taped and the one on the right (reversible, silver or blue) is sewn with Amy’s machine.

Kadin’s preschool has an evening Halloween party every year on the weekend before Halloween. For the past two years, I have opted to go as "my true nature.” Last year I was an ogre. That kind of freaked the kids out. This year, the kids wanted me to be a witch. It wasn't hard, I tell you, came pretty easily. (Last year, Greg went as an Oxford don, this year, just an overwhelmed dad.) So I was happily green and crotchety the day before moving and the Friday before Halloween.

Then on Monday, Rees' class had their party and Halloween parade during the school day. I was stunned to see that Rees' teacher was an angel. Wow, and it truly suited her. She is lovely. At our parent-teacher conference she said, "You know how Rees seems always to be fidgiting or moving about? He needs that. I think that is good for him." God bless her! She does not come across as someone who is especially bright or intense, but she has this amazing ability to just focus on what is important and say the right thing. I have never seen her get flustered, she just takes things in stride. Rees clearly wants to please her. It never would have occurred to me to be an angel for Halloween, but good for her! I'll have to seriously consider that for next year, imagine, emphasizing the positive!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


I opened the door and saw garbage all over the floor, every cupboard flung open, the waffle iron on the ground. Someone, or something, had really done a number on the kitchen. Granola bar wrappers, cereal boxes, opened tupperware, crushed ramen noodles, empty soy milk cartons, absolutely everywhere. At first I could see only chaos, but then the patterns started to emerge. It was mostly food items that were everywhere and every cupboard was emptied up to about chest height. I knew the likely culprits: little two-foot high masked intruders. Alas, our house that is open to the elements is also open to the vermin. There was not much I could do as there is no good way to secure the kitchen and nothing left to secure anyway.

Still, all that night, I had dreams of little striped gangster hoodlums having quite a party in the kitchen. The nerve! And then I was worried that they might just move in. One day I would open a cupboard or a closet and be surprised by glinting eyes and a wet nose.

I went back this morning, cleaned up the mess, searched the cupboards and closets for stowaways and shut everything up as best I could. Let's hope the house gets solid walls soon and it's days as a ring tailed party center are over.

Monday, October 17, 2005

For the birds

Just finished reading The Big Year by Mark Obmascik, a funny, quick read about something near and dear to my heart: obsession. The obsession in this case is birding, a competitive sport, it turns out, not to be confused with the more passive pursuit of bird watching. Birding is not my particular obsession (though, I suddenly notice, there are a large number of posts in my blog about birds), but neither is mountain climbing, another favorite book topic of mine. For some reason I am drawn to this kind of non-fiction. Maybe I am obsessed with obsession itself? The three main characters in this book (real people) are well drawn, and even though they are all very different, they all share the same obsession and they are each appealing in their own twisted way. I wanted them all to win. ( A Big Year is a quest to see the largest number of bird species in North America in a year.) Those of you interested in the survival literature genré (and you know who you are!), should definitely pick up this book. You will laugh out loud and be glad you are in the safety and comfort of your own home.

Thursday, October 13, 2005


Cathy has once again inspired me to write, because even though she has a bad head cold and feels a lack of inspiration, she is able to come up with her usual witty, entertaining blog entries.

You may all have heard in the news about how Colorado suffered a terrible winter storm last weekend and was buried under 20 inches of snow. You probably have not heard the news that it is a beautiful, 70 degrees, and sunny today with lovely autumn leaves.

Well, it didn’t snow (much) in Boulder, but it did rain for about 48 hours and about 2.5 inches of rain fell in that time. Not such a big deal, really, but there is still no roof on our house and it wasn’t that pleasant to be outdoors. The house seems to be pretty much okay, and I tried not to panic unduly over the persistent lack of a roof. To take advantage of the weather, the family spent the day on Sunday at the Denver Art Museum (DAM).

We have never taken the opportunity to explore Denver, and we didn't do it this time either, but we drove through a different part of city to get the museum. The museum is more centrally located than the Zoo and the Natural History museum, the only other Denver attractions we have visited. It was nice to see more of the city, though it looked sodden, and I would like to get to know it better.

We knew we were near the museum when we saw a giant wooden chair with a horse statue on top. The kids enjoyed the whimsy of that and until then, I don't think they understood the kind of fun we could have.

It turns out the museum has family programs on the weekend which includes activity backpacks and a family fun center. We were one of the few families there, it was not crowded in the least.

We started with the backpacks. Rees picked one about jaguars, snakes, and birds and Kadin picked one about Aztecs. We ended up only exploring the 4th-floor exhibits of South American, Pre-Columbian artifacts, but what a collection it was.

The 4th floor is very staid and traditional with objects in sanitized glass cases, but the backpacks really interested the children and drew us in. The whole setting was suffused with quiet formality, so the kids were a bit subdued and uncomfortable. But the first instruction in the backpack was to imagine that we were in a tropical rain forest surrounded by animals, many of whom were hidden. And sure enough, in the artifacts all around us, we found hidden animals. Of course, to find animals, you need to be quiet and stealthy, so this fit in quite well.

We hunted for animals and tried to imagine these artifacts in their original setting. I was really blown away by the complexity of the civilizations and the variety and beauty of artifacts. I was left wanting to learn more about the Maya and the Inca and their predecessors and antecedents. Greg fell in love with an Aztec jar and the kids really had a good time.

The backpacks then directed us to the family fun center. Here there were chairs the kids could construct and decorate, a temple of foam blocks to build, and amazing Egyptian dress-up clothes, among other things.

The dress-up clothes were especially well done. The person who made them had a real passion was clearly obsessed with fabrics and textures. There were ibis headdresses and winged capes, slithery crocodiles and lotus blossoms. They were extremely well constructed and durable and had clever, aesthetically pleasing fasteners. You really felt like someone special when you put on these raiments. (They were sort of like human-sized folkmanis puppets, for those of you familiar with folkmanis.) Though beautiful, they were also practical and each had a large, prominent loop sewn in so you could easily hang them back up when you were done. It was nice to see something so well done that was also so kid friendly.

Each of us also had fun designing and making patterns on discs that we put on tops and then spun. It was exciting to see how everyone's creation looked in motion. Then it was time to go and the kids didn't want to leave. There was plenty more in the museum and in Denver to explore, but we'll have to save that for the next rainy weekend.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Who would have thought…

I did not and do not intend this blog to be about cats, but so it seems to be at the moment. I feel compelled now to share with you some of the interesting cat ephemera that has been sent my way.

First, there is this website of cats in sinks that my mom brought to my attention. Endless, hypnotic, amusing.

Then there is the very interesting Cat Circus that Nina sent the links for and has plans to go see. Wow. I love the idea of getting into a cat’s head, but my problem with trying to encourage the cats in some behavior is how to reward them. They are not like dogs who can be easily trained with food. There probably is some food that the cats would see as a reward, but I also bet it is a form of raw meat that I just couldn’t deal with. I’d love to know, though, what this guy uses, it has to be more than just a pat on the back. And I love that he says the main thing training cats has taught him is “patience.” Now that is a whole different kind of cat show.

The cat show

I’m sorry I did not post sooner about the cat show, but I had to get over my disappointment first. Let’s just say that cat shows could be a lot of fun, if you win.

As expected, the atmosphere in the room, a typical hotel convention room, was very artificial. Thank goodness it was a rainy weekend. I arrived to find the cage the breeder had brought for me (hot pink) decorated with lace, beanie babies, and pictures of cats with fairy wings. Not to my taste at all, but whatever, it was nice of her to go to the effort.

You know how perfect I feel my Pearl is, but then the very nice lady next to me unveiled her kitten: a most stunning female tabby, “silver” (read white) with “chocolate” (read brown) stripes. She was so gorgeous and relaxed and endearing. How did my Pearl have any chance against this beauty?

As far as the competition goes, here is the deal. This being "D#von Heav#n" the one cat show chosen this year as a gathering point for owners of D#von R#xs, there are 40 D#von R#x cats entered. This is highly unusual. Normally there would be only a couple D#vons at a show. I gather that Maine Coon Cats are typically the most popular breed at shows. At this show there were 41 Maine Coon Cats, 40 D#vons, and the next largest breed represented was 10 Oriental Shorthairs.

Within each breed there are categories for adults by gender and color and categories for kittens by gender and color. There are two divisions for adults: premiership (first time out) and championship (those who have already won at other shows). Rex and Pearl were kittens, with Rex being in the male tabby group and Pearl being in the female tabby group. Of the 40 D#vons, 22 were kittens. Of the 22 kittens, 2 were male tabbies and 13 were female tabbies. The 13 female tabbies made up the toughest competition at the show. Each category gets a first, second, and a third place. Rex, in his group of two, consistently placed second to a spunky, nearly bald, very light haired little guy name Pilgrim. In her group of 13, the judges did not seem impressed by Pearl. Nor did they seem impressed by stunning miss silver and chocolate, our neighbor. It is true, color means almost nothing. It is all shape and proportion.

Eight times I heard my cat’s numbers called. Eight times I took them into one of the eight rings. Eight times they lost. I have to say, however, that at least when comparing male tabby D#vons or female tabby D#vons, the judges were pretty consistent. Out of the 13 in Pearl’s group, the first-, second-, and third-place winners were usually the same three cats. Rex was always second out of two. Even out of 13 (the largest group there, I think) it was pretty clear who the contenders were and whom the judges were interested in. They all just looked like cats to me, but I was impressed that the judges all saw something else, something they pretty consistently all agreed upon.

If a cat won at this level of gender, breed, and color, then they could go on to other levels that compare all D#vons (breed only) and then move on to between-breed comparisons. I, of course, have no first-hand knowledge of this, but I think that it might get just a bit more random when the judges are comparing between breeds, with each judge having their own favorites (all very suspect and controversial, of course, generating lots of gossip, intrigue, and speculation). That would make it a good, very enticing system, where if you make it out of the initial stages (likely if there are few representatives of your breed and color) the results are not so predictable or set in stone, but the stakes are also higher. At that point, the judges are comparing apples and oranges, and determining whether an apple is a more perfect example of an apple than an orange that is the most perfect example of an orange and so on. In that situation, your chance of getting that much-desired recognition is more by chance. There is more suspense. And the recognition means more as it is at a higher level.

Alas, recognition for me and mine did not come. I do think both cats excelled in the anti-social category, however. As soon as Rex and Pearl got in the room with hundreds of other cats, they started hissing and growling. They couldn't even tolerate each other, despite having slept together on my lap in the car on the way to the show. I kept one on my lap or in the carrier and the other in the cage throughout the show. Very ironic as originally I had only intended to bring Pearl and was slightly worried how she would feel being separated from Rex. When the breeder encouraged me to bring both, I never imagined that them getting along would be a problem. None of us was happy about that.

Neither cat is used to being in a cage. Not that they seemed to mind so much, but compared to the other "show cats" (as opposed to pets) they were not at all relaxed. Every judge got hissed and growled at by my two darlings. The first judge called Rex "spoiled." Pearl was the center of attention, not because of her good looks, but because of her acrobatics trying to get out of her cage. She would try determinately to back out, doing handstands and flips in the process. It was a bit of a show stealer as the spectators oohhed and ahhed and the judges seemed annoyed.

Other people I met ranged from locals to a woman from Seattle (owner of beautiful silver and chocolate, a C-section delivery BTW) to two women from Alaska. Interesting people and I wonder how they all got into cats. I think the reasons are varied. There is certainly no money in it. Many of the people seemed very nurturing or elderly or overweight or handicapped. Some seem controlling. I don't know what is cause and what is effect, but I do think raising cats would be a nice hobby for someone who was not very mobile. My favorite part of the show was just sitting with one of the cats on my lap.

One of the things that I think you could do at cat shows is live your fantasy through your cats. You find that perfect cat that suits your Ideal (or the judge's Ideal) and then you get accolades for that cat. You can breed them and groom them and choose them to your liking and then you can get the recognition. It could be very addicting. It seemed there were a lot of people living vicariously through their cats. People who obviously didn't take very good care of themselves, lavished care and affection on their show animals.

Finally, I am convinced that there are show cats and there are pets. My two are great pets. They are affectionate, smart, amusing, and good with people and children. They have not been trained to be good with other cats and they are not good in cages, hence not such great show cats. Nor, apparently, are they perfect representations of their breed's physical characteristics. It's just as well. While I could see how much fun and how rewarding it would be to show a winning cat, I can think of lots of other ways to get enjoyment from your pets. Okay, okay, I’m a sore loser!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Joke of the week

Heard last night on the radio:

When President Bush was asked about Roe vs. Wade, he replied:

"I don’t really care what you do. The important thing is to get out of New Orleans, one way or the other."

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

In praise of the fad and the short-lived

It occurred to me the other day that I tend to dismiss new exercise crazes as frivolous fads. It seems that every few months something new will come along and there will be neat new equipment to buy. There is yoga and “power yoga” and “hot yoga” and Pilates and NIA and the walking movement with pedometers and ski skates and skate skis and snowshoes and walking sticks and mountain bikes and road bikes and cruisers. Thrift stores are filled with old exercise bikes, Nordic tracks, elliptical trainers, and so on. I realized that I kind of look down my nose at all the equipment, roll my eyes, and see each new fad as short lived and a bit of a waste. I resist the change and am waiting for THE THING or fall back on the classic walking. I realized that if I was going to take up an exercise, something deep inside me wanted to feel a real commitment to it and to the equipment, for the LONG TERM. And I felt the less equipment, the better.

But then it hit me. Why? What was I thinking? Why be reluctant to adopt the new trends? So what if they are short lived fads? This is exercise we are talking about! If it is novel and fun and good for you, what is the worry? Why do I have to be so stoic and old fashioned and committed? If I buy an exercised DVD and only do it four or five times, so what? It still cost less than four or five classes and it was not wasted. Why not go out and try every new thing? If I do it for a while and then move on to something else-the next thing-so much the better! What is the harm? There is only gain.

My acupuncturist is a former tri-athlete and she reminds me how good it is to change the kind of exercise you do and not to stick with only one thing all the time. In new exercises you use new muscles and don’t overuse others. I realize that for years I have been trying to find “my thing” and been wanting to commit to something and there is really no reason to do this at all. It feels good to throw that out and just commit to exercise in general, do lots of different things, and even embrace new fads, if only for a short time. I don’t know what was wrong with me before! I now want to be more open minded and an early adopter of new exercise fads. It can only be fun and helpful. Let’s go!

And then there is the thing with toys. I realize that I have always tended to buy presents for the kids that were toys of the highest quality---even heirloom quality---made of nice, solid wood. And now I have a house FULL of nice toys. Why? Greg just got Rees this large but sort of cheap plastic castle for his birthday. At first I was kind of annoyed, as I had seen a nice, solid, wooden one at a thrift store, but resisted buying it because we had so many toys. If we were going to get a castle, why not get a nice one? I thought. But then I realized it would stay and likely be with us for the long term. It is great to have a fun-for-now but not forever sort of castle. It will eventually break and move on. Phew! That is okay! That is for the best!

And it is the same with holiday decorations. On the one hand it seems a terrible waste to buy a tree every year and then throw it away. And now they have those fake, carve-able pumpkins that you can carve and keep forever. It is truly sad when a jack-o-lantern decays and shrivels and dies, but it is also a great thing. It reminds me of change and the seasons and, best of all, I don’t have to keep it around until next year. It is gone, compost!

Certainly it is not good to just waste things, to buy things that pollute or can’t be recycled and throw them out, but I can surely loosen up a little. I have tended to go too far in the other direction of late. For toys, exercise, and seasonal decorations I am ready to embrace the new, the temporary, and the fad. It’s time for me to lighten up and have some fun!

The answer

Yes, it is what I have been waiting for! They just appeared in the mail box the other day and they solve my dilemma. No more thoughts about cat-motif checks for me, because now, courtesy of the Boulder Valley Humane Society, I have cat return-address labels. Hooray!

Oh yeah, and as of about 15 minutes ago, I have been convinced to enter Rex in the cat show this weekend as well. AND I will be going to something called a Rexception, a banquet on Saturday night, and to top it all off, I am staying overnight at the hotel as well. I even tried to arrange to carpool with someone so I could really get some immersion in the culture, but no luck there. Don’t know what kind of weekend I have in store or what one should wear to a cat show banquet, but I’ll find out soon!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Feng Shui

Oh boy do I miss those kitties. The kittens are currently at a friend’s house and we are temporarily in an apartment. We are in an apartment because the roof has come off our house. This has happened on purpose, however, and it is a good thing as we are adding on a couple of rooms. (Boy has Katrina really put that in perspective for me!) The house, though “light and airy” at present, has no walls or roof to speak of. Great views, but it is also noisy and dusty. Not a shelter for man or beast in any sense of the word.

We found a nice furnished hotel-like two-bedroom apartment on campus, and because Greg is a professor, it is a truly cheap option for the four (make that six) of us. The one drawback is that pets are not allowed. When we first arrived in Boulder, we stayed in university housing (before pets) and noticed that though pets were not allowed, there were many people who had them anyway. So we figured we’d be one of those tenants this time around. Only the place we are staying this time around is slightly different from our old apartment. It has the added bonus that it is more truly furnished and they clean it on Tuesdays and Fridays, change the sheets, make the beds, etc. Really nice that they do this, but a sure-fire way to let them know about the feline members of the family.

Wanting to make it all work, we arranged an elaborate plan for Greg to take the kittens to work on the cleaning days. I dealt with disguising their food and litter; he dealt with the cats. We became kitten smugglers. It felt wrong to me, so pre-meditated and effortful. Not a passive sort of, ”Oh, I’m sorry, cats aren’t allowed? I didn’t know,” or, “it didn’t occur to me that it would be a problem.” So how to work it? Other ideas included bribing the cleaning staff, who were surely underpaid, not to report us. But this seemed triply wrong to me: first the pets, then the bribe, and then asking someone to take the bribe. We never seriously considered that.

The cats are small and not destructive, but it still made me tense every time they would meow or even when they would sit prettily on the windowsill. I was out much of the first day they were here, but during the one hour I was in the apartment, a man knocked at one of the doors (we have two doors, confusing!). And since I didn’t immediately know which door he was at, he thought no one was home and came in to pick up the university-owned phone. Yikes! I quickly shooed him out and handed him the phone through the door. But what if I had been away? It was our first day and already we were almost busted!

The next day was a cleaning day so Greg took the cats to work. He really seemed to enjoy the subterfuge. He said he also enjoyed having them at work. But the real wake up call came when I mentioned to the boys that they should tone down talk of the kitties because technically, they weren’t allowed. This truly distressed Rees. If it was wrong, it was wrong, no gray area about it. I have to admit it distressed me too. We tried to reassure him, but he could not relax. And what good instincts for him to know that what was wrong was wrong. We should encourage that instinct, not dismiss it. Finally, he said, “Mom, you know the cats? In the apartment, they are bad feng shui.”

He hit the nail on the head. I often talk about feng shui as something that either makes you feel comfortable and secure, or something that doesn’t. For the kids that would mean that leaving your glass of milk near the edge of the table or absent-mindedly rocking the pitcher of juice back and forth would be “bad feng shui.” I include in this category being loud and fast in a restaurant or behaving erratically in front of people carrying trays of food or walking on crutches. The response from the kids that, “I wasn’t going to crash into them,” doesn’t cut it for me. It is still distressing, and so “bad feng shui.” At one point, Rees had taken to asking me if he was bad feng shui! Poor kids. I was afraid they were going to grow up with a very distorted view of feng shui.

And the cats, usually a source of good feng shui as they come up to you and purr or sit prettily looking out the window, ears alert, tails twitching, had suddenly become a source of stress and danger. I tried to rationalize it, but it was clear that neither Rees nor I was comfortable with the situation. I imagined dirty looks from our neighbors in the apartment, I avoided going to the housing office to ask questions, and was tense every time I passed someone in the halls or walked by that especially menacing door labeled “Resident Manager.” Uggh.

So I started asking around and found the family of one of Rees’ friends who were cat lovers, but miraculously did not have cats. They were willing to cat sit. They are responsible and loving and I trust them completely. Good feng shui there. We delivered the cats to them and the cats have adjusted well to their new circumstances. Still, it seems a long time to be away from the kitties---six weeks when we have only had them for three months. But they seem happy and the energy in our apartment has improved dramatically. I can smile at the people in the halls now and have even had nice conversations with the resident manager. Our neighbors suddenly look much more friendly. The feng shui has definitely improved.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Photos: before

I have been having trouble posting photos of late. Here is another attempt.

Homage to New Orleans

Here is something I wrote after my visit to New Orleans a decade ago. It seems a fitting homage to the city's artistry, magic, and beauty as well as its contrasts, problems, and conflicts. (Especially telling to me now is that I went UP to the river and had a VIEW from there. Yikes.)


It's early; the shops in the French Quarter aren't open yet. I walk up to the river and along the levee. From up by the river I can look out over the city. It is a misty morning; all is calm. I hear the chugging of a boat as it slowly pushes a large barge around the bend toward the docks. Up here on the levee there are some hunched-over men, haphazardly distributed along the row of benches. They look like they've been up all night and are seeking the smooth calm of the early morning river. A low, soulful saxophone wafts through the mist in soft, mournful tones, and church bells ring in the distance. Somewhere the rattle of a jackhammer. The smoothness of the scene is broken by the quick movements of a black Labrador retriever, cutting down by the water and bringing in some drifiting wood. Eyes follow from the benches. As the lab climbs up the levee an old black man wearing an old hat totters up from his bench to greet the dog. Another man stands at his easel, quietly putting the finishing touches on an oil painting of a steamboat. Unlike the placid scene of morning mist and mournful saxophone in front of us, the river on his easel is turbulent, gray clouds swirling from his canvas. His brush, tipped with bright red paint, outlines the jagged trim on the steamboat. The color vibrates against the gray background like a throbbing blood vessel. The dog barks, the snag of driftwood is thrown down the levee again into the river. The process of recovery begins anew.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Pretty pixie

I am going to do it, make a real foray into the strange and mysterious Cat World. The cat culture has been tugging at me for some time (see R#x quest, Flickers, finches, purrs and hugs, and Pedigree) as I corresponded with breeders, tried to master the art of cat conversation, and wondered if I should get those cat-motif checks. But now, as an official cat owner, I am able to delve in in earnest. With the breeder’s encouragement, I have registered Pearl for the upcoming "Devon Heaven" cat show in Denver. But that was just the first step. I knew I was really committed when I also asked about and then ordered grooming products for her. Yes, I have bought various shampoos and conditioners for a cat that range from $4-$10 a bottle. I rarely do this for myself so what am I thinking? Who knew there was a market for such things?

She'll be entered in the kitten category and I don't know what to expect at a show or what categories they are judged on. But I do know that I want her to win something. I find I really care. Isn't that weird? I really want for her to look her best. (I think most cats do get ribbons, though, it keeps people coming to the shows.) And hey, who knows, she might meet her future mate there. Hence the fancy shampoo.

The main shampoo is a dark purple color, called Snowburst, that is really for white cats. According to the breeder, though, it works great on darker cats as well. The idea, I think, is that it takes the yellow color out of their coat, so her grey will be greyer and darker (a white cat would be less yellow too, and more white). Stunning. I can't wait to see how it works. Here are some “before” pictures, and I’ll try arrange some “after” pictures so you can all see and let me know if the cat spa treatments really do make a difference. She seems to enjoy being pampered, coming as she does from a long line of champions, but am I not sure she will be looking forward to this shampoo as much as I am. It will be like Princess Diaries for cats.

To put her looks in perspective, a neighbor boy came over the other day. He is a great kid, about six years old, who is wonderfully transparent, with no ability at artifice. When he first saw Pearl, his face dropped, he made a disgusted face and asked, "Uh, is that what cats are supposed to look like?" Really, I can't blame him for thinking something was wrong with her. These cats do look odd. Ah well, what is a mother to do???

And then there is the cage-decorating contest with the theme of "Mid-September Night's Dream." What do you think, should I do a sparkly fantasy paper maché oyster design with my Pearl inside? Should I go with the watered taffeta the tabby was named for? Or just a lot of dreamy greenery? Fairy wings maybe?

In the end, though, there are a lot of other things going on right now, so think I'll just treat this one as a reconnaissance mission, lie low, quietly observe, take notes, and report back at the end of September. I would like to reassure you all that I have not gone off the deep end, but I can’t. I'm not so sure myself.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


I remember visiting New Orleans about 10 years ago with Greg. There was a big meeting of the Geological Society of America there and thousands and thousands of geologist would converge on the city to give talks. He had an airplane ticket and a hotel room and I was at loose ends, so I decided to go with him and check it out. I wasn’t at all sure what I would think of the city.

I had been studying environmental history and had recently read John McPhee’s The Control of Nature. From the point of view of environmental history, New Orleans should not exist. It is located on the Mississippi Delta, a rapidly changing environment. The Mississippi River has been trying to change its course for some time and the Army Corps of Engineers, like King Canute, has been trying to hold it back from doing this. New Orleans is below sea level, and maintained only by levees and giant turbines. It is not a natural phenomena, but a technological marvel, maintained by enormous government subsidies, barely hanging in there in environmental terms. What a waste.

And I thought not just about the environmental history of this area, but also what I had heard about the culture of the city. It seemed to be famous for many things that I was not especially fond of: unhealthy food (notably deep fried seafood), heavy drinking, wild partying, corruption, racism, and prostitution to name a few. I wasn’t sure how much of an attraction the history and music would hold for me in the face of these other traits. But why not find out? I searched the web for listings of vegetarian restaurants in New Orleans and away we went.

Greg was busy most of the day, so I was on my own, and, despite my skepticism (and despite the vegetarian restaurants that were heavy on the mayonnaise) I had a fantastic time. It was easy to dismiss New Orleans from afar, but seeing it firsthand was amazing. It existed and existed in a big way. I loved the vibrant culture and energy I found there, the diversity, the depth of history. It was beautiful, poetic, unique, unorganized, and third world. I found a real living, breathing, thriving place, a cultural treasure. Despite its very real flaws, I saw it was a force that was not going to go away anytime soon. You really had to see it to believe it. By the end of my brief visit, I had concluded that, despite the fact that it shouldn’t exist, the world would be a sadder place without New Orleans. It was worth preserving.

I have thought about this conclusion a lot these past two days. These two facts, that on the one hand New Orleans should not exist, and that on the other it is a vibrant national treasure, have been brought into stark relief by hurricane Katrina. It is unthinkable that people and their houses are underwater, that the city is not functioning, and that New Orleans was not even the hardest hit area. The fear, the distress, the inhumane conditions are hard to imagine. But yes, it was predictable. New Orleans, that beautiful jewel, was a sitting duck, a disaster waiting to happen. It is true that New Orleans should not exist, but I for one am glad that it does. I have confidence and hope that its unique energy and culture will endure for some time to come, but I am sorry for the suffering.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

"Ow in my arm"

Last time Kadin hurt his arm, about a year-and-a-half ago, it was Saturday night. We didn't have a car and had just signed up for our insurance the day before. I called various numbers, was told by some endless voice in the voice-mail cue that urgent care was in a town about 15 miles away. Visions of spending a fortune not only on the emergency room but also on a taxi floated through my head. Finally, I got a real insurance person on the phone who told me what insurance number to use and that I could go to the hospital about a mile down the road. That seemed sensible and do-able.

About six hours after the accident I called a taxi and Kadin sat calmly in the back with me saying, "I am sad, I have an ow in my arm. I went down the yellow slide and now I have an ow." He was like this all through the check-in procedure, but when we got back to a room to see a doctor, he saw the table full of toys and started playing. By the time the doctor arrived, he was a normal, happy, playing three-year-old. The doctor said we could get x-rays, but there was probably not much point as the treatment would be much the same. He was using his arm and seemed to be recovering. We took the bus home.

I was glad he was better, but when the bill arrived, I vowed to be more careful in the future. Next time, I said to myself, the bone would have to be sticking out or dramtically misaligned before I would go to the emergency room again. I went though, I knew, because I would be forever haunted if I found I could have done something, but didn't. As it was, it was all fine, just a bit of a shock to the pocketbook after our free healthcare in England.

So when Kadin fell two nights ago and hurt his arm just after we had changed insurance plans and doctors again, we gave him some ibuprofen and an ice pack and bundled him off to bed to see how it would be in the morning. It seemed a little better, but he still wasn't using his arm. The next day was the same. It was tedious as he was in a foul mood and needed a lot of attention, but nothing seemed especially swollen or out of place. Lately he's been making a big deal out of the smallest of cuts and bruises, so we offer sympathy, but reserve judgement as it is hard to tell what is up.

By this afternoon, when there still wasn't much improvement, we had to make the decision about whether to go the emergency room. I called his new doctor and they suggested that it was time to get it seen at the hospital. We had made plans to meet Greg's sister for dinner at the Boulder Farmer's Market, so I thought we'd make the decision over dinner and then go in to the hospital if necessary.

Before dinner, Kadin was running around on an outdoor stage with Rees and using his good arm to balance on pillars. Is this the behavior of a kid with a broken arm? Not clear. He was pretty miserable throughout dinner, but maybe that was the wind? Greg and I agreed that, while we would hate to pay a lot of money for nothing, it was probably best just to be sure. Again, I would hate myself if I could have and should have done something for him and didn't just because I was a cheapskate. And then there was the thought that I hoped he would be fine and that we would discover we really needn't have gone to the emergency room. I realized that either way, there was a good chance that I would feel guilty and/or regret my decision.

After dinner, as I was disposing of my napkin at the typically Boulder "Zero Waste Site," I was trying to decide which of the two containers of Zero Waste my napkin belonged in. Nearby, a woman with a stroller chided, "Which is it? Don't get it wrong!" We joked about that all-too-familiar compost guilt you have in Boulder. "Yeah, I've just messed up the compost AND I'm not even the perfect mother." We walked Greg's sister to her car, invited her to hang out at the emergency room with us (she politely declined), and just as we were getting back to our car we saw a woman with a sling on her left arm. "It's a sign." I said to Greg.

About forty-five minutes and three x-rays later, with Kadin recounting the story of "falling off of James, a horse" (often failing to mention that James is a ROCKING horse), it was confirmed that Kadin had in fact broken his arm. Poor guy. And it was confirmed that we didn't waste a trip to the emergency room. But, alas, it was also confirmed that we made him suffer a full 48 hours before taking him in to the hospital. As predicted, there was no escaping the guilt. Next time, I'm thinking a compromise, maybe 24 hours, will suffice. You just can't win.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

A small step

My parents drive an electric hybrid car and so does my brother and many of my parent’s friends do as well. I saw lots and lots of hybrids in California. The gas prices in California were the highest of the trip and so it makes sense that people would consciously want to economize, with prices nearing $3 a gallon. California also offers special incentives and rebates to people who own hybrids.

Driving home from the grocery store with my mom one day, she mentioned that I should go right instead of left. I thought it didn't matter, that each way was about the same distance. I asked her why and she said it was because it took less gas to go that way. She could tell in her car that going home this way, though perhaps not shorter, consumed less gas. It was a novel way to map the area and make navigation decisions, made possible by the readout in the hybrid car that details how much fuel is being consumed. People with hybrids form this whole new culture. When they get together they talk about what kind of mileage they are getting and my brother is having a competition with himself to see how well he can do. My mom says it has really changed the way he drives and he is now much less aggressive on the road.

So it seems to me that one small step to dealing with the fuel crisis in this country, while still acknowledging people's love of their cars and technology, would be to require that all cars, not only hybrids, have a readout that shows how much fuel is being used. It could even remember the most fuel efficient routes. With most new cars having computer screens these days and offering GPS, it seems a simple feature to add. People would learn how to conserve, perhaps have competitions with each other to conserve, and as an added bonus, tend to drive much less aggressively. They could see with their own eyes what really works. I, for one, am curious about how things like air conditioning and idling affect fuel economy. Education is the first step.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Animal list

Obviously, there have been many changes in California since I lived there 20 years ago, but I am not sure how many of these changes are actual changes and how many are my perception. I am older, I notice different things, and my perspective has changed so that, for one thing, things seem smaller than I remember.

One major change that struck me this time was the traffic. It seemed that there was an almost constant traffic jam from Reno all the way to the Bay Area. Places that used to be long stretches without development, are now gone. It is almost like one big mall. The population growth is real and dramatic.

However, to balance out the population growth, I also noticed more wildlife. We were greeted in the mornings by the loud, grating, primal call of white-tailed kites. I don't remember that from my childhood. There have been mountain lion sightings in the area in the past few years. And, when the kids and I went the beach, in one day, in just a couple of hours, we saw the following animals all in their natural habitat:

Sea lion
Sea anemone
Hermit crab
(and, not in its natural habitat, but also on the beach: Horse)

I don't remember that from my childhood at all. I saw all these animals, but not all at once (except maybe at the aquarium) and they weren't so prolific. We would see a pelican or two, or maybe a group of four, but this time there were long lines of pelicans, a dozen or so at a time.

Maybe I just notice more now, but it seems the wildlife is adapting, and/or the water is being cleaned up and the protections on these animals are working. I was glad to see that the trend towards greater human population and more traffic does not also require a decline in animal numbers.

08/15/05–On our drive back home we saw a Bald Eagle at Donner Pass, CA, lots of pronghorn in Wyoming and Utah, and flocks of large white pelicans with black tipped wings in Nevada.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Around the world in 80 days

Well, actually more like across four states on I-80. We had a great time on our trip to California. My strategy of trying to go 150 miles between stops worked well. A restaurant with a play area for lunch was ideal. Other activities we found along the way included a local library for a bathroom stop that had a children's book sale. A find-the-hidden-cartoon character book for 50 cents helped us get through the next 150 miles and intermittently beyond that. Another rest stop had the added bonus of bison and elk and a playground. The boys played and played and when we went to the restaurant for dinner just after, the kids ate and ate (luckily it was a soup and salad bar). For our last stop, in overheated Sacramento (107 degrees Fahrenheit at 5 in the afternoon), a romp at a playground seemed dubious, so I parked on a shady street some blocks from a shopping center and we got a nice walk in, then we found an air conditioned toy store next to another soup and salad bar. The kids played at the toy store, and we picked up some (free) toy catalogs for them to peruse on the next leg. Even with these long stops and activities, we made 1300 miles in two days.

We have had good luck with books on CD in the past, so I picked up Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne for this trip. (Read by Jim Dale for those of you who have discovered this great audio book reader.) I'm not sure the kids were so into it, too may big words, but they let me listen to it, and I really enjoyed it. I especially benefited from the fact that the main character, Phineas Fogg, is an unflappable man. He arranges his travels calmly and deliberately, stays focused and gets where he wants to go. His lack of emotion is amusing and super human, but successful. The people around him, his servant and other traveling companions, are full of worry and concern. Their roller coaster emotions provide a foil for his poise and take them on all sorts of exciting, but unnecessary journeys. It helped me feel calm and in control in the front seat while all sorts of dramas unfolded in the back. Yes, it would all work out. And it did. I am glad that I have yet to succumb to a portable DVD player (but I am not ruling it out for the future!).

I thought about Phineas Fogg again on Sunday when I went to church with my parents. The lessons of the day included Elijah looking for a sign from god and Peter walking on water. Elijah looked for god in the earthquake, the windstorm, and the fire, but didn't find him in any of these dramatic, turbulent places. Then he heard "a small still voice" and it was god. Peter sees Jesus walking on water through a storm out to his boat. Impulsive Peter wants to join him, and is able to walk on the water too as long as he is focused on Jesus, but sinks in when he gets distracted or self-reflective.

Phineas Fogg, Elijah, and Peter, are all reminding me of the value of keeping a calm center amidst the daily hurricanes of parenthood.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Rise of the Alpha Mom?

Nina sent me an article from New York magazine called “Empire of the Alpha Mom” by Randall Patterson. It was a good article because it clearly outlined some of the difficulties new mothers in America today have with the transition to motherhood. It was also a horrifying article in how it profiled one mother's response to this difficulty.

The article is about Isabel Kallman who wants to become the "Martha Stewart of parenting." Isabel is a highly educated career woman who has very high expectations for herself and her family. As her husband says, "we want to make sure we do whatever we do very well." In lots of ways this is very typical of today and there is nothing wrong with wanting everything to be perfect. But people who have this kind of attitude and are used to being in control often get broadsided when they encounter the unpredictable world of children.

Here is a composite of quotations from the article that I think sum up the dilemma of modern motherhood very well:

“As her due date approached, though, she began to feel the creature pressing against her vital organs and became aware that she was losing control....All that she had ever become was the result of study, and now she realized she had not studied to become a mother. Knowing this, she quickly lost faith in whatever instincts she may have had. 'Everyone said, "Follow your instincts, follow your instincts, your instincts will take over." And it just didn't make any sense to me,' she says." And so little Ryland was born, a baby who was, according to his high-achieving, hard-working parents, "very needy, very demanding...nonstop motion, a complete tour de force, the Energizer Bunny 24/7, unbelievable!" Isabel, “felt an isolation, a loss of independence, a helplessness...her one true instinct was to run."

Today’s well-educated, hard-working women likely have no idea of what parenting is like until they experience it first hand. (I am speaking from experience here.) Their models of success are all about control and hard work and study. And this approach just doesn't naturally mesh with having a child. Parenting has become a THING, something to approach not with instincts and benign neglect, but a BIG PROJECT that needs to be done RIGHT. The result is that mothers today take a very professional, involved approach to their children that is well meaning, but, well, just not natural.

The horrifying part of the article comes with Isabel's response to this common dilemma. Instead of getting in touch with her instincts, really experiencing the experience, having a transformation, she intesifies her drive, goes cerebral, does her homework, and studies up on motherhood. "No expert told her not to worry about it, just to do as she pleased. They talked instead about the right way of parenting: that you don't these days, just prop your child in a playpen with a bottle or put him out in the yard like a pet. You breastfeed him. You play with him. You wear him on your body so that he gets used to your voice, develops language skills more quickly." But, like many of us, Isabel couldn't pull it off. She couldn't be the perfect mother. "The more Isabel's' child demanded of her, the more she went out to learn. And the more she learned, the more she was told to stay close—and the more people she hired who could do that for her." Instead of rejecting these so-called “experts,” and the impossible messages they send, she embraces them and discovers what she calls her most valuable lesson: "it takes a village." In other words, if you just hire enough people, you can have it all again, you CAN be the perfect mother AND the manager, the LEADER of the pack.

And so her salvation comes in starting her own cable company, "Alpha Mom TV." The article shows how this TV channel will offer everything. To the mom awake at three in the morning with her fussy baby it will provide the information, "they'll be told what to do and what not to do and how to do it better, “ the guilt, “Isabel ratchets up the tension; more mothers go nuts,” and the solace, “some calm high-priestess of motherhood…coming on to absolve them for failing to be perfect today and bolstering their resolve to be more perfect tomorrow.” It’s brilliant, it's its own perfect, self-perpetuating system! As the author of the article succinctly puts it, “The work of Alpha Mom TV, like that of the church, will be to allay the fear it creates."

And maybe that is just how we have gotten where we are today with parenthood. The people in this world who are calm and content are not the ones out there promoting their worldview. It is the strivers, the over-achievers who are getting the publicity, creating the images, the brands, telling the tales, raising the bar. There is a basic dilemma today with the place children have in our lives. I agree with that 100 percent. But I think Isabel's response, creative as it is, is just about 180 degrees wrong from where it should be. It is exacerbating the problem not coming to terms with it. But then those of us who are not hiring a village but instead diving into our children’s needs, not running from the closeness but seeking a more natural, instinctual balance, basically trying to be REAL and CONNECTED, aren't out there writing how-to books or creating TV channels to promote our views. For one thing, there’s no market for it, but the real truth is, we don't have the time!