Tuesday, March 29, 2005


It snowed the first three days Bart and Kate were here, so we hunkered down. Bart and Greg played guitar in front of the fire, the kids enjoyed each other, and Kate and I talked and talked. The only outing that first day was to go out for pizza for dinner. The next day we went to the CU Natural History Museum where we played with the exhibits and I saw my friend Michelle Ellsworth on video. That day was also THE COOKING DAY (see below).

Saturday morning was the neighborhood egg hunt, Kate and I went early to hide eggs in the snow, and then after the hunt we went to a potluck brunch at Lisa's house, the neighbor who organized the egg hunt. We brought another product of the cooking day: baked samosas stuffed with potato curry from the recipe in Bittman's How To Cook Everything cookbook. We filled our minds and stomachs. Then the weather cleared a bit and there was a tennis game in the afternoon.

Easter Sunday dawned sunny and very warm. We had another egg hunt in the house, the kids had chocolate and candy for breakfast, Kate went to church, and then we all reassembled for a bike ride. There are great trails around and through Boulder where you can ride for miles and not have to cross any streets. Rees did great and rode without complaining for the 6-7mile loop. Kadin, after a breakfast of candy, was in a bit of a mood, and we thought the trip was doomed, but he ended up having a great time on “papa’s bike.” Cuillin was not thrilled with the idea of biking either. He was upset at first by his seat, but then got distracted by the prairie dogs on the first part of the trail, “They’re cuooote!” Just as things were settling down, he was dropped while he was on the bike and, as Bart put it, was “probably very rationally afraid.” But we weren’t sure if he was more upset by falling or by dropping his airplane in the process, so we reunited him with his airplane and continued on. After a bit, he fell asleep. (A couple days later he informed Kate that he liked the bike ride and wanted to do it again. Who knew?) At the end of our ride we had lunch at a new cafĂ© at the nearby shopping center.

Came home and gardened, working together to finish the flower bed out front. Roses, strawberries, Oregon grape, and some ground covers were all transplanted from the area where the new entryway will be. Soup for dinner that night (with some whey in the broth, see below!).

Monday was another beautiful day and we went to Red Rocks park and amphitheater just south of Boulder in Morrison, Colorado. I figured for Bart it was a nice combination of geology, dinosaurs, and music. There was a shot of someone we know in the Visitor’s Center video. Lisa Loeb has apparently played Red Rocks. We had a picnic in the park and stopped for ice cream in Morrison. On the drive home we saw a bald eagle. Then late in the afternoon we headed into Boulder where Kate got a quick (and, I’m sure, frustratingly brief) shop, and we all had dinner together at the Dushambe Teahouse. The two youngest boys were asleep by the time we got home. We talked, the Sweet Potato Fly (see below) languishing alone on the 'fridge, then went to bed and I saw Bart and Kate and Cuillin off at 5:30 this morning. Sniff! The boys start back to school tomorrow.

PROJECT: how to turn sour milk into gold

So perhaps I didn’t get enough of the frontier experience camping, or perhaps having Bart and Kate here inspired me, but I woke up wanting to cook. Bart and Greg had made hummus the night before, so Kate and I decided on an orzo salad from her Frog Commissary Cookbook (except we used brown rice and couscous because I thought we had quinoa, but we didn’t) to go with that.

Then there was the issue of two half-gallons of milk that were in the fridge the week we went camping. They weren’t sour yet, but on their way, and we had fresh milk delivered in the meantime. A year ago, friend Annie sent me a great book called Wild Fermentation about coming to terms with and helpfully using and harvesting the invisible biota in your kitchen. There is a recipe in there for Farmer’s Cheese, a simple cheese made from curdled milk. It is not a fermented food, but to make other kinds of cheese you then ferment this product. I had successfully made this un-aged cheese from sour milk in the past and then turned it into a reasonably healthy lemon cheesecake. So we made the cheese and from this ricotta-like substance, a lemon cheesecake. Rees, who will not eat cheese or eggs by themselves, loves it!

One of the byproducts of the cheese curds is the whey, and, according to this fermentation bible, there are many useful things you can do with whey, from soups to baking to gardening to fermenting further. The cookbook Nourishing Traditions was recommended for more ideas, but Wild Fermentation had one recipe that used whey, a recipe for “Sweet Potato Fly.” This is apparently a soft drink from Guyana made from fermenting whey, lemon, and sweet potatoes. The recipe included interesting spices and an eggshell (to neutralize the acidity of the lacto-fermentation). Kate said, “When else would I have a chance to try Sweet Potato Fly?” so we whipped up a batch of that (using an eggshell from the eggs in the cheesecake, of course) and left it to sit for three days, as directed, to ferment.

Well, three days was last night and Bart and Kate and Cuillin sadly left early this morning, the Sweet Potato Fly all but forgotten. I noticed it again around breakfast time, peeked at it, and it smelled good! Like spicy gingerbread and root beer with a hint of lemon. I strained it and put it into glass jars and was sorely tempted to drive to the airport to give Bart and Kate a try. It’s thick and gelatinous, a nice bubbly pale yellow, and tastes quite good with subtle spicing and a refreshing lemony zing. Kate, you’ve gotta try it!

So the next time you have sour milk on hand, you could bake with it, but I suggest you turn it into these gems: a lemon cheesecake and a spicy soft drink.

Friday, March 25, 2005

PROJECT: camping

Well, am thinking that this heading doesn't really work, but then camping IS a project. We had a great camping trip to Arches and can't wait to go back. I am glad that everything and everyone fit in the small car. Rees and Kadin did an excellent job putting up with being squished for the drive. Now we're back and Bart and Kate and Cuillin are visiting. Hooray! Everyone is very happy. Why don't we just all move in together?

Some of my favorite camping ideas:

For the "kitchen" I have a set of cheap plastic storage drawers on wheels. I used to have all the kitchen stuff in a box or bag, but the drawers make things easier to organize and access. In the top drawer I have silverware and kitchen utensils. In the middle drawer there are kitchen staples like salt, oil, tea, coffee, and some canned goods. In the bottom drawer are cups, mugs, and bowls. The top of the drawers makes a nice extra surface. When the drawers are in the back of the car, we can access all this stuff there as well.

For dishes, I have an oblong bucket (fits plates) where I keep some Dr. Bronner's soap (biodegradable) and a sponge. When the meal is over, everyone puts their dishes in the bucket. I fill the bucket with a little water, soap and scrub everything on the way out of the bucket, then rinse out the bucket and rinse everything either in the bucket or on its way back into the bucket. Then the bucket serves as a drying rack.

For storage, I like to hang things. I have a couple of different types of "chains" for this. One is made of the cut off tops of socks looped together. One is made of a bunch of ties tied together. The third is a plastic chain made from the plastic interlocking links from a baby toy and plastic interlocking shower curtain rings. You could also just buy a length of plastic chain (lightweight) at the hardware store. You can hang things like clothes and towels by stuffing them in the loops of the sock chain, or use clothes pins, or put big S hooks in the loops. We have lots of S hooks and hang pots and pans, a toothbrush holder, a toilet paper dispenser, coats, headlamps, basically everything we can, on these chains.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Picture the scene...

It’s a bit windy and Kadin wants to eat his ice cream in the car. I reluctantly open the door and, anticipating my main argument to this option, he is saying, "I'm not going to spill my ice cream in the car, I'm not going to spill my ice cream in the car." All the while he is flinging fleeces and other detritus out of the way.

Moments later:
"Where did it go? Where did it go?" He holds up an empty cone. Big sigh. I don't see it anywhere. I rifle though Rees’ fleece on the floor to find a ball of raspberry ice cream amidst the folds, grab it quickly and plop it back on the cone. So predictable and yet still unbelievable.

“NO running and NO jumping.”

We are hiking down a beautiful canyon wash, surrounded on each side by towering walls and spires. Despite themselves, the boys are having a good time. Every now and then one or the other will complain, but the scenery is so enchanting that they soon forget and start having fun again, climbing on rocks, crawling in the potholes that are filled with sand. This is a child’s paradise. We pass a mother with an older son and a younger daughter coming the other way. The children look about ten and seven. The girl runs across a couple of rocks and then jumps down a foot or so to the floor of the wash. She stumbles and slips a bit, skidding on her hands, but immediately rights herself and says, "I didn't hurt myself, I didn't get hurt at all."

My (unspoken) response: "Great! Good for you, good recovery!"

Her mother's (spoken) response: "Hey, don't do that! I’ve told you before and I’ll tell you again, NO running and NO jumping. You could get hurt. Then we won't be able to hike any more."

Wow. Having Rees first I really can't imagine even suggesting to one of my children that they shouldn't run or jump. It seems so cruel. They are only young once.

I have no idea what the context of this comment was and hope there is a reasonable explanation. Maybe this mother had had a terrible experience or maybe her daughter was notoriously accident prone. Maybe this daughter had brittle bones or weak ligaments or something. Then I worried maybe it was a sexist thing and the mother didn't want her daughter running and jumping. (If the girl had been dressed in her Easter finery or something that would maybe make sense.) I wondered if every time, for the rest of her life, the girl would hear her mother's voice saying: "don't run and don’t jump" every time she jumped or ran. I hope not. I hope I misunderstood, But, just for the record, I don't think "no running or jumping" is an appropriate rule. I remember the words of a babysitter who said to me, “my job is not to protect them from any hurt, but to stand in between a skinned knee and a broken leg."

Friday, March 18, 2005

World class camping

The first 24 hours of this trip reminded me of the trip we took to Brittany with Jen and Clare. That time it was the Saturday before Easter and we couldn't find the house we had rented. We really couldn't find it and we searched for 8 hours. Yes, 8 hours, and we ended up calling the police, piecing together a story from the French dictionary, "nous somme abandonnée" or some such, and having them call the owner of the house at 5am on Easter morning. Then the owner, who spoke no English and was not in the best of moods, had to drive 30 minutes each way to show us to the house. We thought the trip had been ruined until we woke up the next morning and saw the beach across the street, the amazing rock formations, the plentiful beach glass, the channels forming in the sand as the tide went out, and the most entertaining of popping sand shrimp. An hour or two of that was enough to erase any hardship from the night before.

Last night, though, was a real marathon. We left Boulder at 3pm and thought we'd arrive in Moab at 9pm at the earliest. Then we got caught in a snowstorm in the mountains and a traffic jam due to tunnel construction. By the time we'd stopped for dinner, we were 2 hours behind. Then it was about 80 miles farther than I thought—me tending to the optimistic with these things—so we pulled into a motel parking lot in Moab just before midnight, really pretty darn tired. Thanks to Greg for driving the last bit. Usually I can pull myself through such things, but maybe it is age, maybe an earlier bedtime and rising time, but I just couldn't do it last night. I did do my best, however, to tell jokes and otherwise keep spirits up those last 80 miles.

This morning I (or I should say, Rees, who was so excited he was up) got up at 6am and we went to the grocery store to let Greg and Kadin sleep some more while we got some provisions and breakfast. By 7:15 I had dropped Rees off at the motel and was on my way to the park to see about camping. I was really nervous about this, for some reason. Maybe because there have been numerous times in California when camping sites just aren't available. This is spring break week for Colorado, and many, many people go to Utah. I needn't have worried, but was glad to have done it the way we did. They start giving out sites at 7:30 every morning. There was no wait, I was guaranteed a spot, and there was good selection.

For $10 a night this can't be beat! Wow, we are camping at Arches National Park. Our site is nestled in a bowl of powder-soft sand, surrounded by trees and "slickrock," that wonderful sandstone at Arches and in Moab that is so inviting, like sculpted clay. Beautiful weather, clear and in the upper 50s, views all around of gorgeous rock formations. When we arrived, the boys were beside themselves with glee, wanting to explore everything at once from the rocks to the natural sandboxes to the box canyons. Now, at the end of the day, they are testing the limits of their bodies and imaginations, playing "iguanodon and Utah raptor," silhouetted against the setting sun on top of a smooth rock. This is world-class camping. Can't imagine anything better.

Categories of toys

I’ve been thinking more about categories, specifically categories of toys. Greg and I have always had a bit of tension over categories. I would always want to have one drawer for one kind of thing, another drawer for another, etc. He never seemed very enthusiastic about this idea and I just didn't get why. Now I see that he just doesn't see it as necessary.

We were talking about toys and I was saying how surprised I was by the categories of toys we have. I asked him it he thought it was surprising too. His simple answer: “I didn't think we'd have categories of toys.” No categories? I asked him what categories he had when he was growing up. "I don't think we had categories, we just threw everything into a box." Threw everything into a box? Lego and lincoln logs and tinker toys all in a box? "How did you play with them?” I asked. "I don't know,” he said, “we just did."

Now it made sense why he didn't like to clean up the toy room by putting things into specific boxes. From his point of view, this was just too much effort for something that was just going to get mixed up again. Wow, I had never thought about it that way.

But, I also think that it is easier and more fun to play with toys when they are somewhat organized and we have just way too many toys to simply throw them all in a box. And, in any case, we have organized them, and kids helped.

So, I thought I would have children who would have toys that fell into categories something like this:

Play food
Play dishes
Stuffed animals

You know, the basic, wholesome categories of archetypical toys. Wrong. First, I have only boys, which is like a different universe, and second, they had different ideas.

Here are some the labels that we have on our drawers:

Action figures
Digimon and Pokemon
Myth and magic

Okay, so there is also one for "Wooden cars and trucks" and one for "Nature" that has sticks and stones and shells and pinecones. These two are of the pure and classic sort that I had fantasized about. Ah well, you can’t win all the time. Parenthood is all about letting go.

Thursday, March 17, 2005


I remember an image from central Pennsylvania. We would sometimes go hiking in a nearby state park. Along the roads of the park we would often see an older, eccentric woman. She would be walking her dogs—there were at least two dogs and maybe three. She wore a longish dress with a full skirt, large sunglasses, and a big floppy hat. She never looked where she was going. She held the leashes down with one hand and a book up to her face with the other. It seemed so odd to me.

One time my father came to Pennsylvania and we went out to where she walked and saw her. My father looked at her with admiration. I was surprised.

"I could never do that," I said.

“No?” said my father, “Why ever not?

“I don’t know, I would feel too guilty.”

To me it was like she should either be reading and enjoying her book or walking in the woods and enjoying the nature around her. It seemed like she was tuning out and going inside and being totally self-indulgent (though she was walking her dogs).

I was in my 20s when I lived near where she walked. I couldn't imagine being that eccentric, that self-absorbed. Now I wouldn't say "never." It seems more appealing to me these days. My father, for one, has made a career of being absorbed and eccentric. It is not the path I chose, but I could see it growing on me. Maybe in 30 years I'll be able to do something similar.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

"Have a Great Day!"

When we were in Oxford, preparing to move to Boulder, Greg would receive emails from the department secretary in Colorado. She always signed her emails “Have a Great Day!” This just seemed so surreal in Oxford. No sane person would say that sort of thing to you there, especially not followed by an exclamation point. We joked that we would soon be saying to each other, “I’ve had it up to here. If one more person tells me to ‘Have a Great Day’ I’m going to…” What if you didn’t feel like having a great day? What if you weren’t?

It reminded me of when I lived in center-city Philadelphia and a friend who was living in Santa Cruz complained about the culture there: “If I see one more person doing tai-chi at the bus stop…” From where I sat that sounded pretty good. In Philadelphia it was, “if I see one more pimp beat up his prostitute…” or “if I see one more drunk, passed out or dead on the steam grates…” If tai-chi at the bus stop was the only thing you could complain about, life was pretty good. I looked forward to living in a place where I could be annoyed when told to “Have a Great Day!”

I don’t know what it is here, the sun, the shallowness, the beauty, the relative prosperity, but somehow “Have a Great Day!” just seems to fit. Doesn’t bother me at all. But then there is my neighbor. If I see him and say, “Hi, how’s it going?” he will respond with relish, “I’m LOVIN’ Life!” Good for him, I think, but it isn’t that sharing just a little too much information?

Monday, March 14, 2005

Open, press, scoop, stir

My father was on Morning Edition this morning. It was a nice eight-minute piece that tied together his life and work. A few things struck me. First, that he said he is always thinking about how to organize things and how to be efficient. Even when he brushes his teeth he thinks about how to divide up his mouth into parts and whether to separate out outside/top/inside surfaces or upper and lower jaws or right and left and when and how you switch the position of the brush, etc.

This surprised me because it occurred to me that some people might NOT do this. I asked Greg if he did this and he said he definitely did not. So that is something strange that I share with my father.

And yet my father is not the most efficient or most practical person in day-to-day life. He sees efficiency and simplicity in computer programs and mathematics, but not the day-to-day chores. That is where my mom comes in. In the interview he talked about designing the kitchen with graph theory and how it turned out the wastebasket had to be near everything. When Kadin insisted on using the can opener today I thought about another part of that kitchen, the two drawers my mom labeled: “Open, Press, Scoop, Stir” and “Cut, Scrape.” It was the can opener that would change drawers. Was it an opener or a cutter? And, only slightly tangentially, bandaids and aspirin, were did they go? Oh yes, “Cut, Scrape.” I grew up with zillions of things like this and I realize that I think like this too. I love the indexes to my father’s books because I can always find things. It’s like a map of my own mind. Others have told me they find the indexes confusing.

It's slowly dawning on me that other people don't constantly try to categorize objects or find the shortest route or organize the fewest number of trips. Could it be true? My friend George called this morning to say he'd heard the interview and he said he felt he understood me a bit better. Let's hope it was the "wastebasket needs to be near everything" part of the interview that reminded him of me, not the "didn't take his bicycle helmet off in the library" part.

Have to run to pick up Rees, but might reflect more on this later. If you heard the interview, what did you think?

Winter patterns

The snow came for a visit again Saturday night. Saturday day it was warm and sunny and we went for a bike ride along the South Boulder Creek path. After dinner it was so warm we even went out for ice cream. Then we woke up Sunday to 12 inches of dense spring snow.

The robins got fat, puffing out their feathers to keep warm, looking cute and slightly indignant, like round apples in the trees.

Rees and his friend next door built an excellent snow fort out of the sticky snow.

Greg and I tried to go cross-country skiing, but as is the pattern with these spring snows, all the snow had melted on the sidewalks and the paths so we went for a walk instead.

When I walk the kids to school after a snow, I notice that almost always, miraculously, the paths are clear. Nobody shovels them and I didn't understand how the snow knew to be so considerate. Was it the texture of the pavement that kept it from sticking? But then while most parts of the pavement were clear, other parts were covered with snow. Some driveways needed to be shoveled, others didn't. Were they made of different materials?

Over time the patterns stay the same, there are some places that melt first and some places that are the last to melt, even when the sun has not been out. I finally realized it's the heat retained in the pavement that melts the snow from the bottom up. The sun here (at altitude) is especially intense, and, as evidenced by the snow, the places that absorb the sun can hold that heat for days. Even with no sun, you can see the places where the shadow of a conifer would cross the path or where there are drains or tunnels under the sidewalk, drawing the heat away. These places are white like a reverse shadow.

I enjoy walking and seeing these patterns and think about how the snow is more insulated on the grass and melts slower there. And how that nice blanket of snow is insulating the bulbs and spring flowers that were beginning to bloom. We planted our rosemary in a sunny spot next to some big rocks that we hope will maintain enough heat to keep the rosemary happy. It just might work. The rocks, like the pavement, do melt first, looking like steppingstones across the snowy fields, revealing the microclimates. Then I think about how, on a different scale, cities are like these heat-islands of stone dotting the landscape.

On our walk this morning the snowflakes were so big you could see their crystal structure. I've read that the best way to see the crystals of snowflakes is to catch them on black velvet fabric. The velvet, like the grass, insulates them and keeps them from melting too quickly and the black gives greatest contrast to the ice crystals. I should keep a piece of velvet and a magnifying glass on hand just for such great mornings.

Spring break is next week and we plan to go camping. My theory is that because we've had the snow now, it will be warm then. Fingers crossed, but at this time of year, there are no guarantees.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

"Bear with me a moment."

Greg said he missed England yesterday when he was on hold with Mellon Investor Services. He got an earful along the lines of "We know your time is valuable and that is why our customer service representatives are working carefully to serve each of our clients to the best of our ability. It is important to us to be thorough and give each customer the time they deserve." What a load! Hello? Why don't you just hire more OPERATORS? He reminisced about the more mater-of-fact "bear with me a moment" used in England before they would put you on hold for eternity.

People in America would never put up with "bear with me a moment." That would just rub Americans, who are used to comfort and convenience, the wrong way. But in the UK, "bear with me a moment" is like a call to duty. People take it as a challenge. "Bear with me a moment." Oh all right, I'm up for that, I can do it, you'll see. Bearing things graciously is kind of an obsession in England. Witness the birth and popularity there of many a reality-based television show. They thrill to see people who are under various kinds of emotional stress---celebrities, politicians, royalty, people who experience great luck or great tragedy---in order to see how they handle it. Those who hold it together and don't become emotional are treated with great respect. Those who lose it are dismissed as undisciplined, an embarrassment.

While we were there, David Kelly, a Senior British Civil Servant, an expert in Iraqi biological weapons, died under mysterious circumstances. There was an investigation to see if it was murder or suicide. Only a few weeks after his death, his wife testified in front of the investigation commission. She was unanimously praised in the press (see one example here) for being very dignified and not becoming emotional during her testimony. I personally felt that it would have been completely understandable if she had cried or broken down on the stand. Her husband had just died and she was asked to recollect their last moments together. She also had good reason to believe that the way his employers (the government) had treated him led him to take his life. If she had showed anger or hurt, that too would have been understandable in my opinion. But she didn't, and it that way won a small victory. Such scrutiny of people's emotional lives and their self-control becomes so fascinating. Even I, a novice at perceiving the subtleties of it, found it engrossing, though I'm sure I only perceived the tip of the iceberg.

And I am equally sure that I, with my American outbursts, was a source of great fascination (and embarrassment). I think I even stooped so low as to finally beg the operator, when asked to "bear with me a moment," "no, please, don't put me on hold again, I can't bear it, I won't." Such lack of character usually left the person on the other end of the phone speechless. I was doing my part, once again, to fuel the British wonder at the success of America, a country whose citizens are so undisciplined and so childish. I confess that I too often wonder at America's success. I know the British would never put up with that "we know your time is valuable" line. It's way too obvious for them.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

PROJECT: equinox tasks

Oh yeah, the blood is really flowing here. In addition to gardening and baking, here are some more things I like to do for the equinox:

Wash the windows (or, around here, with the abundance of eager young climbers, get the windows washed) to let in all the new light. (Schedule it again for the September equinox to let in all the fading light!)

Spin in the spring and flip in the fall (that is how to rotate your mattress or futon for optimum, even wear).

Change batteries in smoke detectors on “spring forward” day.

Spring cleaning---open all the windows and really watch the dust fly.

More ideas? Post yours!

PROJECT: more spring ideas

Well, I hear that the northeast is still under a lot of snow. Here are a few projects to encourage the spring.

Bring in cut forsythia branches, and other budding twigs, place in water to “force” the blooms.

Plant whole wheat kernels (available in bulk bins at whole-food stores) in a shallow dish with soil to grow “wheat grass.” Attractive greenery, great medium for displays, and cats, I’m told, love it. You can even mow or trim it for fun, or use it as a garnish or in smoothies.

On the first day of spring (20 March) the kids and I like to bake a special “Spring Foccacia” to celebrate:

Make your favorite foccacia dough (basically, simple bread dough or pizza dough with added olive oil). Roll it out and decoratively place a few thin slices of lemon (sunshine), peel and all, on top. Brush with plenty of olive oil then sprinkle with fresh parsley (or any delicious green herb to symbolize new growth). Sprinkle with lemon juice and rock salt crystals and maybe roll it again a bit to mush everything in so it all sticks to the top. Bake as directed in dough recipe.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

PROJECT: bring in the spring

I dug up a corner of the lawn to make a new flower bed. I put the unwanted sod on the growing brush pile behind the lilac bush. Then it occurred to me that I might as well save at least a piece of it. I cut a square and put it in a pot, watered it, combed out the dry leaves, and gave it a little hair cut. It was still dormant and brown from winter, but is now turning green and growing fast. I am hoping it will thrive at least until it is green outside. If it works, I might make this a spring tradition, tear up a bit more of the high-maintenance lawn and bring a bit of it inside. It would make a great Easter basket

Spring equinox

The spring equinox is approaching fast. I can feel it as the days get lighter. The two equinoxes (September 20 and March 20) are the times of the year when the length of the day is changing at its greatest rate. The blood is starting to really flow. I often have a sort of restless feeling this time of year. The kids too have been waking up earlier. I remember now that for the years I have been a parent, instead of dreading the “spring forward” change of clocks and “losing” an hour, I have really looked forward to it. These days Kadin is waking up at 5 or 6 in the morning, but in a couple of weeks, that will be the much more reasonable 6 or 7. Welcome spring!

What are you going to do about that?

This is my current favorite phrase that has helped me stop the self-blame and at the same time raise more responsible children.

When the “I’m cold, I’m hungry, I’m thirsty” lines start coming, the “I can’t find my fleece” or the “I’m bored”s, I no longer own the problem. It is not my problem. I sigh or empathize then say these simple words, “What are you going to do about that?” The response is amazing.

I am happy to help them solve their problem, but it is so freeing not to get wrapped up in every crisis. They are ultimately responsible. It has been the most liberating feeling for me to embrace that phrase. Sure, I feel bad if they are hungry and I didn’t pack a snack, but we need to work together, and it is not my fault they are hungry.

They are learning to pee, eat, put on a coat etc. in anticipation of the own needs, and they seem quite willing to accept responsibility. I am happy to delegate it. The painful part of them learning is watching them fail, but my role is not to keep them from failing, but to be there to comfort them when they do and help guide them to do it differently the next time.

Oh yeah, and that phrase can work wonders with non-kids too.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Drive-by mothers

So there is a blog with a post---two posts, really---about "drive-by mothers" or mothers who criticize other mothers. The author (who I believe is childless, and, I have to say, has her own very funny, very engaging way of being critical) wonders why mothers are so harsh to each other and so critical of different choices---whether to breast- or bottle-feed, whether to co-sleep, whether to baby-proof, whether to work. All mothers are doing such a difficult job, shouldn't they bond together? It seems in our reflective, educated age, mothers are so harsh to each other and to themselves. Guilt, guilt, guilt.

One respondent said that she felt sorry for those mothers who criticize others because she felt it indicated that they had a problem. Well, I guess I have always been even a little more charitable than that. (And luckily too, as I am pretty good at judging others and myself. "I am my own worst drive-by mother," said one, and I agree with that!) When I hear someone being critical, I remember the wise words of a friend who said, "When we see others who are doing things differently and we feel critical of them, it really just means that we love our children. We all want to believe that what we are doing is best for them. It is healthy for us to think that we are doing everything right." So when we feel critical or feel criticized we can just know that the other person is doing their best and feels they are doing everything right, and this feeling is HEALTHY. The next step is cultivating the inner strength that allows us to just accept that what is good for one is not necessarily good for another….

Thursday, March 03, 2005

PROJECT: crocheted necklace

No, this was not the project I was doing the other night, but I had a request for this kind of post and I have made four of these necklaces recently as gifts.

I plan to have more of these how-to idea posts and I’ll set them apart with the heading PROJECT so you can find them or skip them as suits your preference.

So, a crocheted necklace. I saw a similar kind of crocheted necklace in the Sundance catalog and wanted to give it a try.

The materials are things you probably already have on hand, or if you buy them, cost only a few dollars. It takes a little over an hour for me to make one necklace. And it doesn’t have to be done in one sitting and you can talk and move around while you are doing it. In other words, it fits in between the cracks. I find I can even make one while my 4yo is cuddling in my lap, but he is an especially considerate and sedate cuddler. Certainly wouldn’t work with every child, especially younger children, but you never know.

First, you string small seed beads on a thread. You have to thread all of the beads on the thread before you crochet, so put on enough to make a bead necklace as long as you want your crocheted necklace to be and you will probably have more than enough beads.

For thread, a strong thread is preferable. I started using cotton button-hole thread, then tried silk thread (springier texture than cotton), and am now trying a very strong nylon beading thread. The size of your beads might determine the size of thread. For small beads you will also probably need a beading needle. For larger beads, any sewing needle will do.

Once your beads are on the thread, you crochet using a chain stitch. That’s it! Really! But you can vary the pattern and the colors and how many beads you put in a stitch.

For the start and finish, I experimented with doing a chain stitch loop at one end (chain about 6 stitches and then connect them with a slip stitch) and a small button at the other (same idea, but put the loop through a button), but found out that the necklaces stretch a bit and don’t really need a closure. You can just chain a few extra stitches at the beginning and at the end and then connect them by crocheting them together with a few slip stitches. Or, if you like the loop idea, you could make that part of the necklace like a pendant with a large bead on the other end going through the loop (almost like a lasso). If anyone out there who crochets for real has a better, cleaner way to finish the necklaces, please post!

Here are some of the combinations I’ve tried so far:

First I did a black button-hole thread (wished it was dark brown, but that’s what I had on hand) with dark gold beads. I did a chain stitch, a bead stitch, a chain stitch, then a bead stitch with three beads all clumped together in one stitch. Then repeated the pattern from the beginning. The whole necklace was this same pattern. The three beads together make a triangle shape.

The second necklace I did, I used both white pearl beads and clear, iridescent beads on a white silk thread. I strung one white, three pearls, one white, three pearls, one white, etc. and did the same pattern of stitches as above. This made it so the single-bead stitches were clear beads and the clusters of three beads were pearl beads. I wonder if the white thread will get dirty over time. Guess you could wash it, though.

The third necklace was made of blue iridescent beads on gray thread. Same pattern.

For the fourth necklace, I used tiny amber colored beads on gray thread. I tried the same pattern, but the thread was so thick and the beads so tiny that the pattern didn’t really show up. It looked like drops of pus or something. NOT a good necklace theme. So I bought a smaller crochet hook and tried a different pattern of two chain stitches, one bead stitch, two chain stitches, then a bead stitch with five beads, etc. This looked much better with tiny single beads contrasting with the bigger clusters.

Now I am trying the same beads and colors as the last one with a thin nylon beading thread (that I found on sale for 25¢ a spool). Haven’t had much time to experiment, but I’ll let you know how that goes.

So, if anyone tries or has tried this and has other ideas or patterns, please share them here!


I was obsessed last night by a creative project. I crave those rare, blissful moments of obsession, that all-encompassing feeling of concentration, not knowing what will come next, not being able to tear myself away until I see the result, and then starting the cycle all over again to make my project even better than it was before and even better than it needs to be. I used to indulge in this kind of behavior fairly often, but it's more difficult since I became a mother. (At the beginning of motherhood, of course, the baby was my all-encompassing obsession. Only it was different with a living breathing human being. A creative project, to be sure, but one with its own volition, so impossible for me to feign control. Mothering is more like mentoring or moderating than authoring.)

Last night was different, I was entranced, on a higher plane and I want to remember that feeling, that side of myself that has been dormant these last few years of constant interruptions.

I read this article in American Scientist last week called "The Soul of Science" by Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine and author of The Science of Good and Evil. Schermer theorizes about how our brains evolved to enjoy moral behavior, to feel satisfaction when helping others or learning on a plane higher than that which is actually necessary for survival. He illustrates this with a pyramid, a "hierarchy of needs and moral values" starting at the bottom with THE INDIVIDUAL and progressing up through THE FAMILY, THE EXTENDED FAMILY, THE COMMUNITY, THE SOCIETY, THE SPECIES, and ending with THE BIOSPHERE. "The natural progression of this upward trend is to perceive societies as part of the human species and the human species as part of the biosphere." (120, American Scientist, v93)

He then goes on to hypothesize various things people do that bring them deep satisfaction as well as benefit society. His list includes:

  • Deep love and family commitment
  • Meaningful work and career
  • Social and political involvement
  • Transcendence and spirituality

He gives an example from his life, saying, "my own journey up the pyramid began with falling in love, parenting a child and making the commitment to place family before self. The immeasurable joy generated by the most quotidian of family functions reinforces this commitment on a daily basis. Even with unlimited wealth, I would continue my career no differently because I have been fortunate enough to find a profession that offers more than just personal gain."

I was interested in this article because I am at a crossroads and have been looking for that sense of deep satisfaction. And evolutionarily speaking, taking care of my genetic offspring should give me great satisfaction. But lets just say that last night, my offspring got a can of soup from their father for dinner, as I was happily obsessed. In that instance, "meaningful work" was more important to me and more satisfying than caring for my family.

Somehow, the obsessive kind of behavior I indulged in is not that acceptable in mothers or even in women. It is the kind of behavior that is seen as unfeminine, unmotherly, or even ugly in women. But it is readily acceptable in men. Men---or the men in my life---are often protected from interruption by their spouses, secretaries and other assistants. Moms, on the other hand, are inherently interruptible.

I just don't think Michael Shermer has been a mother. It seems that a balance between "deep love and family commitment" and "meaningful work and career" has come rather easily to him. Shermer goes on in his article to spell out a "principle of happiness:"

It is a higher moral principle to always seek happiness with someone else's happiness in mind, and never seek happiness when it leads to someone else's unhappiness

and a "principle of liberty:"

It is a higher moral principle to always seek liberty with someone else's liberty in mind, and never seek liberty when it leads to someone else's loss of liberty

But on a very basic level, this is nearly impossible for a mother. You can't please all the people all the time. Every day mothers make innumerable calculations and compromises between their happiness and other's happiness, their liberty and other's liberty. You could argue that this juggling is the ultimate in meaningful work, but at times it seems a Sisyphean task. I wish it were as simple as Shermer suggests. Perhaps one of you has a better suggestion of some basic rules to help find greater satisfaction, happiness, and liberty.

Sometimes I feel like I am a genetic misfit---due to my obsession and lack of recent vigilance, the house is in disarray, people can't find things, the laundry is piling up---or maybe, understandably, from time to time, I just crave more balance and variety in my life. And when I exercise that option, it necessarily impacts more people than it used to, not all of that impact positive. But maybe that is good in the end, dragging my offspring up the pyramid to see that they are not the center of the universe and can enjoy the happiness of others. Or maybe, as it is a pyramid, it is modeling the idea of spending most of your time on yourself as a base and less and less, but still some, time at these higher levels that take into account more and more of the world. Not an equal balance, but weighted towards yourself and those closer to you.

Right now, what I know is that I crave the kind of thinking that takes me outside of myself and even outside of my immediate family. It felt good.

But enough of this, I must go excavate the playroom and fold more laundry.

What I had for breakfast this morning

I came into the kitchen after my shower, got a bowl, lined it with foil, poured in some baking soda and some boiling water and dropped in two tarnished sterling silver earrings.

Greg thought this an odd thing to do.

After getting dressed, I came back into the kitchen, removed the earrings from the bowl and rubbed them with a cloth to a nice shine. Then I made myself a bowl of muesli.

My mom told me to try the tin-foil soda thing. There is something about a chemical reaction with the foil, and it works!