Saturday, April 30, 2005

PROJECT: Wallet info

Every now and then, I like to take the contents of my wallet and photocopy it. I put the copy in a safe place. Then I have a record not only of what is in my wallet (if it ever gets lost or stolen) but also of how the contents of my wallet change over time. It is surprisingly fun to look back at these old photocopies of IDs and membership cards, debit and credit cards. Though mundane in some ways, they tell a story of where I was and what I was doing, and even what I looked like. A slice of time preserved. Try it, you might like it.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Mama the leader

It’s been a long week and Kadin, in particular, has been going through a difficult, inert phase. The days are mind numbingly predictable and go something like this:

“Kadin, it’s time to get up!”
“I don’t want to get up!”
“Kadin, it’s time to get dressed.”
“I don’t want to get dressed!”
“Time to have breakfast.”
“Noooooo, I don’t want to have breakfast!”
“It’s time to go to school.”
“I don’t want to go to school! I hate school!”
“It’s time to go home.”
“I don’t want to go home! I want to stay here!”
“It time to have lunch.”
“I don’t want any lunch, I’m not hungry!”
“It’s time to get Rees.”
“I don’t want to get Rees! Not now!”
“It’s time for dinner.”
“I don’t want to have dinner. I’m not having any!”
“It’s time to brush your teeth.”
“I don’t want to go to bed!”
“It’s time to put on your pajamas.”
“I don’t want to go to bed!”
“It’s time to pick a story.”
“I said, I DON’T want to go to bed!”

All this is interspersed with odd requests like, “I want to open the door backwards,” or “no, I go first” or, if he goes first, “no, you go first” etc. etc. And if he doesn’t get his way, there is a big dramatic show, and if he does get his way, the requests become even more complicated and bizarre. Nothing is done without resistance, nothing is straightforward or easy.

Tonight, we get home late from an event at his school, an event he had been looking forward to for weeks, but then when we get there, he pipes up, “I don’t want to go.” That’s typical so of course we stay and have a nice time. Aunt Felicity is there too and comes home with us after to sit by the fire (it snowed about 10 inches last night so we were in the mood to be warm and cozy). It’s late, but I’m in the kitchen getting some dinner for Rees (who was too distracted to eat at the event), some desert for Kadin (who wants chocolate and vanilla ice cream in particular proportions), and some popcorn and drinks for Greg and Felicity.

Kadin is sitting at the kitchen table watching all this and says, “Mama, you’re the leader, Mamas are the leaders.”

“You got that right, kid,” I say, then add, “So Kadin, if Mama is the leader, who are the followers?”

He thinks for a minute, then shouts, “Nobody!”

Oh well, he’s got that right too.

Monday, April 25, 2005


Sometimes you just need a new word to describe something and there is no one word. Like, what is that word again, for someone who has a small vocabulary? [Just joking there, but we definitely need a word for that, and a word for the times when you need a new word for something.] Without that perfect word you have to improvise or give long, inelegant explanations. Sometimes you can borrow a word from another language, and sometimes you just make one up. The new word, sootsie (rhymes with footsie), has made life around our house much easier in the past week, so I thought I’d pass it along and see if anyone else benefits from its use.

My friend Robyn’s son, Max, age 4, made it up. She said when he is wriggling and writhing because he has to go to the bathroom, she’ll say, “Do you need to go to the bathroom?” and he’ll say, “No, Mom, I’m just sootsie.” And then he’ll go to the bathroom.

Now I know if Kadin is wriggling and writhing and I dare ask him, “Do you need to go to the bathroom?” he’ll deny it straight out and will then put off going to the bathroom for at least another two hours. I try to bite my tongue, but it is so hard to stay silent when you see an obvious need. When it gets to the point that it bugs me, it’s got to be bugging him. I’ve tried to reason with him, telling him it is not good to hold it, that it hurts. I’ve tried to tell him funny stories about how his pee is saying, “I want to come out, let me out!” But all to no avail. Four-year-olds don’t like to be told what to do and don’t like to be reminded that they aren’t all knowing rulers of the universe. They make you pay for that.

But now that we have this word, everything has changed. Now, I can say, “Are you feeling sootsie?” [The first couple of times I used it on myself, said “I’m feeling sootsie!” and did that distinctive sootsie dance. He was amused.] With “are you feeling sootsie?” there is no implied action, no “go to the bathroom” part. It is just acknowledging how he feels and how he is acting. “Hey!” he’ll say, giggling, “I’m sootsie!” and then he’ll run off to the bathroom. Giving it a neutral label was all we needed. Language is magic.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Oxford memories

Just in case you think my previous post is unkind to England, I thought I’d write about a side of Oxford that really doesn’t exist in Boulder. It is true that comfort and convenience are very important to Americans, but they are not such strong aesthetics in England, so it is a little unfair to compare the two of them on those terms. Previous posts, “Have a Great Day!” and "Bear with me a moment" show some of the contrast between the two places with what I hope is a more balanced perspective. If "Boulder moments" was a pro-Boulder post, here is a pro-Oxford post.

One of the things that Oxford has that is sorely lacking in Boulder is history. The depth of culture and infrastructure in Oxford is immense. This is both an asset and a burden. It is a wonderful cultural resource and the traditions of the past are beautiful and powerful, but it also makes it hard to change or strive for new ideals when there is so much depth already. A friend in Oxford recently emailed me that her son’s primary school is celebrating its anniversary this year---its 525th anniversary. It is hard for me to even imagine being in elementary school as part of a 525-year history. That really puts a child’s primary-school years in perspective. Years that seem earth shattering and of fundamental importance to your family are but a blip in the span of history. That alone tells you a lot about the contrast between Boulder and Oxford. Here, an “older house” is more than 20 years old. The oldest school in Boulder just had its 100th anniversary.

When we first moved to Oxford, we rented a house from the University sight unseen. I asked a few questions before we moved such as, “Is it a modern house or a historic house?” It seemed a simple question. In my experience a house was either modern, or, if it was old enough to no longer be modern, it was likely to be “historic.” I was a bit surprised when the answer came back, “Neither.”

In England, there is a whole range of houses that fall in between the “modern” and “historic” designations. If a house “needed modernization” that might mean it predated indoor plumbing or heating, but that house wouldn’t necessarily be historic, unless it was famous for something or had pedigree. A historic house that wasn’t famous for something, needed to be really, really old, centuries old, a mere hundred years is not enough.

The house we first lived in in Oxford was truly neither. Built in the 1930s in a Tudor-revival style, it might qualify as historic in America, but was just a plain old house in England. Plumbing and heating had been added after the house was built and there was a bathroom addition in the rear. We were charmed by the house, the large trees in the yard, and by our view of a thatched cottage across the street. That cottage was historic, as was the stone farmhouse up the lane.

Contrast that with our first University-rented place in Boulder where we had a third-floor, 1980s apartment in a development of other identical apartments near the intersection of two main roads and across the street from acres of parking lots and endless shopping opportunities in large, big-box chain stores. That is the American way. It was comfortable and convenient, but had no personality or charm.

I remember fondly my walk to the shops from our Oxford house. In England, every neighborhood has a small, compact row of shops with a grocer and pub and perhaps a pharmacy or a hardware store or butcher and post office. (Unfortunately these seem to be slowly dying out, but they are still in most neighborhoods in Oxford today.) These shops are small, human-scale places that are usually family-run and visited regularly by those who live in the area. I soon found out that, given the size of refrigerators (small, more on English refrigerators later) and the lack of closets, why a store was called a store. It was where you would store your stuff until you needed it. Large containers and any surplus was a bother. It was much more pleasant to walk down to the shops every day or so to pick up what you needed. You could pick up fresh milk and bread, chat with the shopkeepers, and meet people from the neighborhood. Yes, it took a lot of time, yes it was not the best selection or the best price, but you got some exercise, you met face to face with the people who lived near you, and you bought things in manageable quantities that you could carry.

And to be honest, I kind of enjoyed the kind of living in England that made you think more about how you used things. When we would turn on the hot water, the boiler in the kitchen would lurch into action, reminding us that hot water is not free. Driving was so unpleasant and parking so difficult, that we walked or rode our bikes instead. Closets were small so you had fewer clothes. But that was okay because the washing machines were also small so you washed more frequently. People did not have tumble dryers. There were clotheslines. In Boulder, with its dry, sunny climate, clotheslines are illegal, considered an eyesore. Things here are all so seemingly automatic and convenient that excess is the rule rather than the exception. Like I said, I’m finding it hard to get used to. Something about the struggle in England made me feel just a little more bothered but also a little bit more alive.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Boulder moments

The only problem with Boulder is that there is no problem with Boulder. I can’t seem to get used to how pleasant and easy things are here. I also can’t understand how people can be so idealistic and think that things can and should be even better. And not only do they think it, but then they somehow go and manage to actually make it happen. It is unreal, I tell you. A woman I met at the pool was talking about this great dinner she had at a new French restaurant on Pearl Street. She ordered the lobster with chocolate sauce. I mean, really! That is so Boulder, to combine two exquisite things and just enjoy it. For me, the whole idea takes getting used to, but she has lived here for a while and she has the Boulder attitude, saying, “It was great, I want more lobster with chocolate sauce!” Then, no doubt, she'll make it happen. I have started calling these effortless, easy, idealistic, and undeniably pleasant times we’ve had since moving here “Boulder Moments.”

One of the first things we do after arriving in Boulder is go to the public library for an event based on the Harry Potter books. In Oxford, there were no such events at the library. The public library in Oxford, that seat of learning, has no computerized catalog, no card catalog, and no bathrooms. It does, however, have an excellent and up-to-date video collection. The Oxford public library had public lectures and an occasional story hour for children, but never a "Harry Potter Day," even though parts of the film were filmed in Oxford and the actress who played Hermione is from Oxford. Such an event would seem too much of an obstacle to put on, too frivolous, too expensive, too crowded, too much of a good idea.

But in Boulder, it’s one of those ordinary yet extraordinary events. We enter the modern library building (round stone entry hall with glass ceiling, multiple computer terminals for the internet and library catalog, large trout aquarium, three-dimensional relief map of Boulder and surrounding areas, a fountain with live plants under wide spiral stairs---and I am sure that, even as I write of it’s beauty and extravagance, there are people planning or dreaming up improvements to this entry) and see many people dressed up as characters from the Harry Potter series. After going through the turnstile marked “Platform 9 3/4” we are greeted by “Prof McGonagall” in cloak and pointed hat as she directs us to the “Hogwarts classroom” where the “magic class” is about to begin.

After the magic show, we circulate in the spacious children's reading room and try our hand at secret codes and other activity booths. It is a well-attended event, but not crowded, with plenty of volunteers manning the tables. It strikes me how people have no impetus at all to hide their childlike enthusiasm, how creative and unique behavior is not just tolerated, but expected and encouraged. This event is no joke, but serious fun. “Draco, Draco,” one mother quite calmly calls out, searching for her child who is in character.

Later, we return to the classroom for a presentation of live owls. Five live owls, here in the library. We learn a lot about the different owls as they stare at us in turn with their large, wise, and wild eyes. The kids are in awe.

We’ve been here a few hours now and we start to get hungry, but hey, look at this, there is a café in the library. Uncrowded, cheap, and tasty (need I say this is a nearly impossible-to-find combination in England?) it is located on a bridge over Boulder creek. We eat while admiring the snowy scene beneath. Then, when finished with our snack, there are bathrooms, right here, in the library! It is all a bit much to take in, our first Boulder moment.

A few weeks later, Greg and I need to get our bikes tuned up. A bike shop on the west side of town has been recommended to us. So we plan an evening where we ride our bikes into town after work with the kids, drop off our bikes, go out to dinner, and take the bus home. The bike shop welcomes us with what can only be called open arms. There is a person manning the wide, spacious doors, opening them and encouraging us inside. (Now in England, there might have been a friendly person to help you in the door, but it wouldn’t have been a wide one, and more likely there would be someone who would enjoy watching you struggle to get the bike in the door by yourself and they might even add a little “tsk, tsk” as if this was your just penance for past sins.) Once inside, we are greeted by a crew of enthusiastic youth (as opposed to one or two less-than-enthusiastic, overburdened workers you’d likely find in Oxford, or the one know-it-all, hassled, pretentious, and enthusiastic youth). Five helpful people immediately surround our bicycles, mount them on stands, and give a quick triage of the situation. It is not only easy and effortless, it is pleasant! We feel like royalty. Moments (as opposed to eons) later, with bicycle claim checks in our pockets, we walk towards town to find a place to eat.

Two blocks down the street we find a family-friendly pasta restaurant—not a chain—with outdoor seating, efficient service, and a children’s menu. Happily sated with simple Italian fare, we continue towards the bus through the Pearl Street Mall, which is not a mall at all, but the walking and shopping street in downtown Boulder. I am struck by the way this outdoor, public place caters to children as well as adults (as opposed to the English tradition of segregating children’s activities off into nurseries, churches, and family centers, because, as everyone knows, children are noisy and unpredictable, a blight on polite society). Here in downtown Boulder, each block has some sort of activity designed specifically to amuse and entertain children (as opposed to tantalize and frustrate them). In one block, there are fountains, on another, rocks to climb, on the next, a walled area with large animal sculptures. When Rees asks, “Can I climb on that?” I have to think a minute before I realize I can say, “Yes!” It is almost as if children are somehow considered to be an amenity! As if happy, amused children could actually be pleasant to have around! What a revolutionary idea!

We think things are going too well until we pass a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream shop and find that they are giving out free ice cream that day. While I get the ice cream—did I say it was free?—I don’t have to keep a short leash on the boys as they are happily amused, playing on some rocks. Waiting in line, I am asked if I am registered to vote. Hey, that was something else I’ve been meaning to do since the move. I’ll just check that off the list right now. It’s another Boulder moment.

Sometime after that, we are moving into our new house and it is nearing lunchtime. We don’t want anything heavy to eat so think we’ll try the grocery store down the road. Maybe they have a deli, or maybe even a café. We park outside and I walk in the doors. Sure enough, I can see café-style tables and chairs for dining. It’s Saturday morning but the store is not crowded. It’s attractive too with live plants, wooden shelves, and tile flooring. There are even two men playing acoustic guitar and singing. This is it, I think, we have found the place. I am taking it all in, the perfection of it, when I hear a voice behind me say, “Excuse me…would you like a massage?” It’s like she read my mind. We’re never moving away from this town, I decide, and I’M doing the shopping. Somehow, I’m just going to have to get used to it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

What we had for dinner last night: Crepe bar

Okay, so not last night, in fact some months ago, and not dinner, but still a good chain of meals.

One Sunday we had Steve and Gina over for brunch and made a crepe bar.
Crepes with fillings ranging from the savory:
sautéed spinach with feta, chili
Moving towards the sweet:
banana, ground walnuts, berries, yogurt, lemon juice, butter, sugar

On Monday we had soup, with smoothies made from leftover bananas, berries, and yogurt.

On Tuesday we had Indonesian fried rice from leftover cooked rice and substited tofu for meat and/or eggs and used the rest of the ground walnuts in that. Great with peas and pineapple or other canned fruit.

The leftover spinach and chili fillings were used up as tasty sandwich toppings for lunch.

The kids love eating from a self-serve "bar" like this. Other "bars" that I like to serve, especially when we have another family with kids over:
pasta bar (red sauce, pesto, cheese, olive oil, bean sauce, olives, tomatoes, etc.)
burrito bar (rice, beans, cheese, tomatoes, corn, etc.)
waffle bar (yogurt, berries, syrup, butter, powdered sugar, etc.)
curry bar (rice, curry, coconut, nuts, dried fruit, fresh fruit, raisins, etc.)

I find that kids will often eat all the ingredients in a meal, just not when they are mixed together. They like things simple and fresh, and they like to customize!

Monday, April 18, 2005

What we saw…

We went to hike on a new-to-me trail, a nice 4-mile loop called Gregory Canyon. While we were getting our bearings at the trailhead, we overheard a woman calling the Open Space Department, saying, “the lion cubs were right by the trail, you might want to close the trail.” When she got off the phone I asked her what they had seen and she said they saw three baby lion cubs about a quarter-mile up the Amphitheater Rock trail, right there, about a quarter-mile away from where we stood.

As amazing as it would be to see mountain lion cubs, I didn’t want to go anywhere near them. It was enough to know we were close. Their mother would not be pleased by any intrusion and I didn’t want to get in between her and the babies. So we headed out another trail and kept our distance from the Amphitheater Rock trail.

It was a beautiful climb up the granite canyon, and we saw lots of wonderful spring flowers. There was an especially dramatic one that was sort of pale purple and unfolded out of what looked like nothing. I think it is called the Pasqueflower. An older woman on the trail said she hadn’t seen so many Pasqueflowers in 30 years. Though we had left our map in the car, the plan was to take a trail that would eventually loop around back to the parking lot. We asked a few people we passed if the trail looped around, but they weren't sure. I told some of them (like the ones with the small beagle puppy) about the mountain lion cub sighting down below. When we finally reached a map on the trail, it confirmed that we could loop around; only, the trail back joins the Amphitheater Rock trail about a half-mile from the parking lot. That is where the mountain lion cubs were spotted. Still, there were lots of people out on the trails, lots of dogs. We figured the risk was small and it would be a shame to backtrack after coming so far.

The second half of the hike, we see many fewer people. I wonder if maybe they have closed the trail and no one is coming up it anymore. I wish there were some joggers or dogs ahead of us and behind us so that we would seem relatively unattractive to any predator. About halfway down the trail I pick up a big, pointed stick and Greg acquires a walking stick. Just in case. I see some large, fresh footprints on the trail. “Those are very fresh,” I say. “Those are dog,” Greg says. About 30 seconds later we see a dog ahead of us on the trail with his jogging owner. Between the two of us, Greg and I are proving to be excellent trackers. The dog and jogger head down the trail ahead of us. I feel a bit better.

We get to the join with the Amphitheater Rock trail. Two hours ago, about a quarter-mile down the trail, is where the people we had talked to saw the cubs. I thought if we see the cubs, they would be cute for about one second and then I would want to get out of there, fast! Two more joggers pass us and head on down the trail. I think of warning them, but then think it wouldn’t change what they’d do anyway, so they pass without incident.

About a quarter-mile later I can see what great dens the rocks at this part of the trail would make. The forest has closed in and there are lots of craggy, weathered rocks. My senses are heightened. I want to see and I don’t want to see. Greg is following closely behind. This is the place, I think, it was here, and Greg stops and whispers sharply, “Jen!” He points. There near the trail we see three pairs of tawny ears that quickly turn into and a pile of wrestling furry young animals. Sleeping next to them, curled up in a ball, is the mother…fox.

It was so cool. We stayed and watched for a bit. The people we had talked to earlier meant well, and had much of it right—the number of babies, the location on the trail—just the wrong genus of animal. They were kits, not cubs. And the mother fox didn’t seem the least bit concerned or interested in us. The babies did look like kittens, and if the mother fox hadn’t been there, it wouldn’t have been immediately apparent what they were. Without much information you could easily fill in the blank with your worst fears. This must be how rumors get started. I didn’t even question what those people had seen until I saw it myself.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

What we had for dinner last night: Brined pork

Yes, really, just the sort of annoying blog post to inflict on loyal readers! But why not? In the best-case scenario, these posts will give some inspiration to other cooks. In the worst-case scenario, no one will ever eat at my house again. But these posts will all have the same title so you can read or skip at will.

The premise of these posts will usually be “clutch cooking.” That is when you notice that it is 5:30 and you haven’t planned anything for dinner and have a few stray ingredients around the kitchen. (I am in charge of feeding four people, so have some responsibility to perform in this area.) I love the kind of problem where you think, “what can I make in 15 minutes with a lemon and feta?” or “tomatoes and stale bread?” I usually get out a few cookbooks, look up the ingredients in the indexes, and improvise from there. Cooking a planned meal does not have nearly the same creative rush, unless it is a new experimental dish as below.

In England, there was a television show called “Ready, Steady, Cook!” with just this premise. Chefs were given four or five ingredients and had 15 minutes to make a meal. Rees and I would often watch it (it was on at 5:30) and he is now an extraordinary bruchetta chef as a result. Tip: if you want good bruchetta, give a 3- to 5-year-old a clean paintbrush, some olive oil, and some sliced bread. They do a great job and don’t skimp on the oil at all. Yum!

Anyway, I hope to share some of my better clutch cooking results or the better meals in general. Last night was not a clutch meal, but it was good and experimental. The key was brining the meat.

Roasted pork loin (brined)
Oven roasted potatoes and purple onions
Homemade applesauce
Fresh, steamed green beans
Salad with apples and scallions
Frozen yogurt pie

Greg’s sister Felicity and her fiancé, Dan, and Greg’s cousins, Gardiner and his wife, Marcie, were all here for dinner last night. Did I mention how much I like living near family? It was great to be with all the Tuckers and the kids were thrilled.

The meat-and-potatoes menu was a real departure from our usual vegetarian fare, but I was inspired to try meat. I had heard an interview with a mystery writer on the radio earlier in the week and the writer talked about “brining meat.” The main character in her books is a caterer. The basic idea is to soak the meat in a mixture of salt, water, and sugar (or maple syrup, or honey, or molasses, or vinegar, or wine) before you cook it. The salt sort of pre-digests the meat so that it is moister and more tender. And the sugar makes a wonderful, crispy crust. We had some pork loin in the freezer (from an earlier time when we experimented with eating more meat and decided we didn’t like it), so I thought with guests coming, I could cook it and we would eat it up. The previous pork I’d cooked from that batch was sort of tasteless, so I was inspired by this brining idea.

I soaked the pork in a big bowl with 3/4c kosher salt, 3/4c sugar, and filled with water, for about 36 hours in the fridge. Then I rinsed it well, patted it dry and broiled it for a bit in the oven on both sides, then baked it on high until the meat thermometer said it was done. It was tender and tasty, as advertised. On the radio, they said they do this with whole chickens and even turkeys. Worth a try, I’d say.

I also made oven roasted potatoes and purple onions (just realized, carrots would have made a nice addition to that, but didn’t think of it at the time!). This is an old standby that we often made in England. Basically, cut the vegetables into large chunks (about home-fry size), toss them in a bowl with olive oil and salt, then roast at 400ºF or 425ºF for an hour or so, stirring every once in a while and adjusting temperature so that in the end you have tender, browned vegetables (as opposed to crunchy, browned vegetables—temperature too high—or tender, soggy vegetables—temperature too low). We use this technique to make “oven chips,” basically big French fries, and also to make “roasted root vegetables,” which is the same idea with any root vegetable you can think of. Big favorites (in addition to the necessary potatoes, onions, carrots) are sweet potatoes, parsnips, and garlic.

Had some cut up apples in the freezer left over from Thanksgiving, so those alone in a pot on medium heat made the applesauce. The mystery writer said they always have apples with pork and mint with lamb. That's where I got that idea.

Steamed green beans—easy.

A fancier salad in England would often have apples and scallions added to it. Nice contrasting flavors. It is sort of the English equivalent to a Boulder salad that would have avocados and oranges in it.

For the pie, I simply made a graham cracker crust and poured in raspberry yogurt. I topped it with walnuts, strawberries, and chocolate sauce then put it in the freezer. It was a hit. There is something about the combination of raspberry yogurt and walnuts that I like a lot.

Bon apétit!
(Cathy, did I spell that right?)

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Flickers, finches, purrs and hugs

So far, so good with the flickers. They still peck at our house from time to time but, now that they have a home of their own, not in a destructive way. I have seen sparrows, black birds, and finches in the flicker house too on occasion, but think these are just curious visitors and believe the flickers plan to use it still. For a while, I saw only Mr. Flicker working away on the house and sitting alone, calling out from the trees. I thought maybe Mrs. Flicker had left him (she is the one with no red spot on the neck). But she (or a new one?) is back, and I have seen them both in the house. It’s very fun to watch.

Heard a finch singing beautifully this morning from inside the wood-burning stove downstairs. It made a nice echo. Turned off the lights in the room, opened the door to the outside, and then opened the door to the stove. “There he is, mama!” Kadin said. A little brown bird with red trim was sitting in the stove. We left the room and when we returned, the finch had flown out the door (we assume). We had a similar thing happen a couple of times last summer when the finches chose to build their nest in the stove’s chimney. This year, they have chosen the blue spruce nearby (better choice!) but still seem to have the falling-down-the-chimney problem. Santa syndrome?

Also, just heard the good news that we will in fact be getting two kittens. Not sure exactly when. They will be dark tabbies and either two males or a male and a female. One of the breeders I have been emailing signs her posts “hugs” and the other signs off “purrs.” Whatever. We are not getting the kittens from “hugs,” as “purrs” has two available and set aside of us. “Hugs” seems a bit more chatty and obsessive and also seems to like to keep very close tabs on her kittens. She invited me over for a day at the end of April to meet her kittens and another one of her “pet owners.” That sounds okay, but maybe a bit too much for me. I’ll do what I have to do, but I want a cat, not a new woman in my life! Even though we are getting our kittens from someone who signs off “purrs,” she seems somehow easier to deal with. She’s more like, “I’d like to meet you,” then, “send me a deposit” and less, “correspond with me and suck up to me and become part of my life.” Anyway, am relieved that I can soon just be a normal cat owner and not a breeder-kisser (hugger). Now, I have to figure out how to tell “hugs” that I’m going with “purrs.” Sigh.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Living with mountain lions

Okay, this is as close as I’ve gotten so far: I saw the chewed off forelimb of a deer in a driveway today, on my way back from preschool with Kadin. I’ve seen jaw bones of cats and smaller prey before, prey that could be done in by coyotes or foxes, but now I think it’s time to do the mountain lion post.

One thing that struck me about the natural environment in England is how benign it seems. There are very few natural disasters, no hurricanes, no tornados, no volcanoes, and no earthquakes. And though they have floods, it is not like they have flash floods; it is more like, big, soggy, swampy floods, generally slow moving and grand. Even the weeds in England seem benign. There is no poison ivy and few of the prickly, obnoxious types of plants. There are lots of stinging nettles, but they at least have the benefit of being delicious and nutritious (when picked in early spring and steamed). And in England there certainly are no large predators left. People have exterminated them long ago. The only place you will see an English lion these days is on plaques, coats of arms, and statuary. People have lived on the landscape there and managed it intensively for centuries. It is a tamed landscape where there is no wilderness left, but it seems happy, harmonious, and in a state of equilibrium.

Colorado is a different story. On the one hand there is still wilderness in Colorado, vast tracks of untamed wilderness. On the other hand, people here seem to use resources with abandon. I don’t know if there is a connection, but it is not a stable situation. When we were planning to move to Colorado, many things about the real estate ads surprised me. First, there was the "five car garage." It is difficult to imagine such a thing in England and it seems incredibly wasteful and hedonistic. Another house in Colorado listed amongst its amenities "full chain link fencing." That sounded like an eyesore not an amenity until I realized that the fencing could be to keep wildlife out. No more English garden for us. Not only was there not enough rain, there were also foraging deer, and not far behind the deer, their predator, the mountain lion.

We had lived with bears before in Pennsylvania, and there are black bears in Colorado (not Grizzlies), but it was the mountain lion that seemed new and dramatic to us. Such a predator is almost unthinkable in an English meadow where your biggest worry is the stinging nettles.

Our first weekend in Boulder, we went for a hike and saw the warnings about mountain lions. This is their home too. As I watched my son flit about in the woods, I could only imagine what he looked like through the eyes of a mountain lion. He looked like fun! He looked good!

Still, I was determined not to be worried about mountain lions. It is such a rare and special privilege to live in their habitat. They are the largest cats in the Americas and they live here. Wow, there was some wilderness left and a piece of it right here in Boulder. I decided to put any fear of mountain lions out of my head. As risks go, it is a very very small one. Driving in a car is much more risky. In the past century, there have been three deaths from mountain lions in Colorado. I was more in awe of the knowledge that we shared our land with mountain lions than I was worried about the risk.

Until we bought our house. When we chose our house, we chose one where we had access to open space but also where Greg could bike to work and the children could walk to school. Whatever the risk of predators, we reasoned it less than the risk of getting in a car every day. The healthy, outdoor lifestyle was for us. We chose not to live up a canyon where we would worry about wildfires and floods and have to drive everywhere. We wanted a slightly more tamed environment with a little bit of retail, bike paths, a bus line, schools nearby, and that is what we got.

But we found out from our neighbor that it is not as tame as we thought, we also share our property with mountain lions. The adjacent neighbors have several times heard and one time seen, a mountain lion eating prey in their backyard, which is really not too different from our backyard. It is one thing to evaluate the risk of predators in a generalized way—three deaths in the state in a hundred years—and quite another when you know that mountain lions are coming to your backyard to look for good things to eat.

At the Boulder Farmer’s Market one day I spoke to a woman at the wildlife booth. First I asked her whether we could have a compost pile. “Of course you can,” she said, and then she added, “As long as you don’t put any food in it,” so it wouldn’t attract bears and other wildlife. Then I asked her about mountain lions and she gave me a pamphlet titled “Living with Wildlife in Lion Country.” It had some helpful suggestions that started “we urge you to follow these simple precautions” followed by five bullet points. One bullet was “Closely supervise children whenever they play outdoors.” Another was, “Remove vegetation to eliminate hiding places for lions, especially around children’s play areas.” These precautions did not seem simple to me at all. And why had I just put the sandbox under that Spruce tree?

The first summer we were here, friends visited Rocky Mountain National Park and heard a lecture about mountain lions. They came back with helpful information such as all mountain lions attacks have been on either children or solitary people who were running. They said the Ranger showed a photo that a family had taken of their daughter in their backyard. Only after the photo was developed did they see the mountain lion in the background. There’s a nice image for you!

The next time I was at Rocky Mountain National Park, I did a little research of my own at the bookstore there. I looked in the index of a book about mountain lions under “attacks, human.” The author told about how the mountain lion was a misunderstood creature, that it was not aggressive, but shy, secretive, and solitary. There was really no reason to worry, he felt, because “mountain lions rarely attack people who are older than 10 years old.” How reassuring. That is exactly what I am worried about!

Then there was the time we went to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science where they have an exhibit of animals native to Colorado and good places to see these animals. When we pushed the button for where to see mountain lions, a light came on on the map in…our neighborhood! Just a few blocks away, the Mesa Trail is known for mountain lion sign.

On the one hand, I worry about the children, but on the other hand, I am determined to give them their freedom, and I feel I understand mountain lions better. They are shy, they tend to ambush, not chase their prey. Though large and deadly, they are not super aggressive and have been successfully fought off with sticks, backpacks, or even pieces of paper. They prefer deer but are curious and stimulated by running. At first I thought the “supervise children” line was odd because what did that mean? That you should watch the lion attack your children? But now I understand that the presence of an adult (larger body size) could well be a deterrent. I have my own imagined “lion’s eye view” of the world and have purchased a bright orange fleece for when I go jogging, to replace the deer-like dark brown fleece I used to wear. My hope is that I look less appetizing, more like a poison arrow frog than a meal. I have trimmed the trees and shrubs in the yard from the ground up to about 3ft, so there are no good hiding places near the sandbox and the swingset. The children know what to do if they encounter a lion. Instead of being irrationally afraid of mountain lions, I wonder now if I am irrationally unafraid of them.

But I just saw the chewed forelimb of a deer, in broad daylight. This is not normal. Was there a kill nearby? Did a dog bring it from the hills beyond? I don’t know, but I do know lions are here, even if I can’t see them. When I think of them watching me, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It’s wild.

Monday, April 11, 2005

My first snow day!

This is my first snow day, ever!

It caught me by surprise. We did get a fair amount of snow, but the roads are clear and the sun is about to come out. Doesn’t seem justified here (it’s been worse) but we hear stories of major roads closed (like I-70 and I-25 to name just two) and the schools in Boulder County are all closed, so it must be really bad most other places.

Yesterday it looked like we’d be snowed in, but as usual, the snow was melting on the roads. So Rees and I went out to buy some running shoes (we are in training for the Bolder Boulder 10k race in May). The store opened at noon and owner of the store was there to see if he should even open. There was much more snow where he lived. But in Boulder it was fine, the streets were clear, and people were out and about. In fact, the running store probably would have had a slow day if it was sunny and warm as it was the previous Sunday. Then everybody would have been out on the trails. But a snowy Sunday in spring turned out to be a big day to buy running shoes. The store was packed and there were only two people working. It took a long time, but that was okay in the end. In the store they have these special treadmills where you can try out the shoes and they videotape your stride to make sure the alignment is right. Don’t know how scientific it really is, but at least you feel like you get your money’s worth. And Rees loved the treadmills and ran on them for quite some time, getting a nice little work out.

Greg and I went out for our usual date night last night. Couldn’t go hiking this time because of the snow, and didn’t try skiing, but instead rearranged his lab on campus and made a list of things he still needs. Then we had a nice dinner and came home on clear roads. There was a little more snow overnight, but I had no idea the schools were closed until the boys and I set out this morning and our neighbor asked us where we were going.

School plans cancelled, we spent the morning out playing in the snow and shoveling. Now we're back inside to warm up and dry off until we pack up some peanut butter sandwiches and go sledding! Yahoo!

Friday, April 08, 2005

Final update for the day

We were eating dinner and saw him (Mr. Flicker) again, busily flinging more pine shavings out of his birdhouse. Later he was sitting proudly inside, making himself comfortable. He didn't seem to mind us watching this time.

It's great to see the awe on the kid's faces when they see this bird. Rees even went out later with the binoculars to inspect the black birds that had gathered together in the cottonwood across the field. Silhouetted against the sky, they puffed up in turn like bellows as they called their shrill calls.

One question answered

Came home after picking up Rees at about 5:15 to hear the familiar "thump, thump, thump" of a flicker beak. I went to thump back from the inside (declaring our territory), but looked out first. Our questions have now been answered. He was pecking on his birdhouse, not our house. Customizing it perhaps? So we might have peace, but not quiet.


The male flicker is back, sitting in the cottonwood across the field, looking regal.

On the flicker front…

All is quiet. And I just saw two sparrows in the flicker house today. Oh no, is this a sparrow incursion? Haven’t seen the flickers all day. Instead there is a huge influx of black birds. Where are those flickers to defend their territory?

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Finger's crossed still

Well, we still hear them pecking on OUR house from time to time, like they just can’t resist. But they also seem to have taken up residence in THEIR house. At lunch, Kadin said, “look mommy, look, the woodpecker is in the house!” And sure enough, I could see that long, roman beak coming out of the hole in the birdhouse. I’ve closed the shade in the kitchen again so we don’t scare them away from their house. We can see it and they seem to know this, so we’ll keep a low profile for a while. Now, what we need to find out is if they still rattle their own houses. I read that they like a sounding board to mark their territory, let's just hope it is not the same sounding board their house is on.

If this solution works, it will be one of those great solutions that works with the problem instead of against it. In the best case scenario, we get to keep our house, they get their house, they defend our house, and we coexist peacefully together. As an added bonus, we might get to watch a pair of flickers raise their family. The worst case scenario...well let's not mention the worst case just yet. My imagination is way to fertile on that score.


I have finally run out of the huge tubs of marmite that I brought from England. We love Marmite. Okay, that we might be stretching it, but Kadin and I, and even sometimes Greg, eat Marmite regularly. It is a gooey yeast extract that has been compared to engine grease and many deem inedible, but it is a weaning food in England and Kadin and I especially enjoy a snack of Marmite on a rice cakes with tahini and sprouts. (This idea was prompted by a box of sprouts we bought in England that said, “a traditional way to eat sprouts is with Marmite and tahini on a rice cake.” Well, a new tradition to my ears, but it sounded good, so I tried it.) Marmite makes a great food for camping too as it doesn’t need refrigeration. How many sandwiches can you make entirely from foods that don’t need to be refrigerated? Oh yeah, and do I need to add that it is highly nutritious, packed with B vitamins?

I like marmite as a savory spread that isn’t oily like nut butters (or engine grease!). It is one of those funny foods that tastes a bit too strong alone, so it needs something to tone it down. Tahini is also one of those foods that I feel is a bit too intense on its own, but miraculously, when combined with marmite, is perfect. Marmite is salty, so it goes great with eggs, avocado, cheese, onions, and anything fresh and green like sprouts or lettuce or green beans or cucumbers or scallions or even beets (not green, but their sweetness makes a great contrast to the tangy marmite).

I was pleased to see marmite in the stores when I arrived here. It came in small, expensive jars, but it was in most ordinary grocery stores. I figured I would hold out for another big import from the UK, but if I did run out in the meanwhile, I could easily get it here. Well, suddenly, as soon as I was running out and started looking for it (as opposed to happening across it while looking for something else) I couldn’t find it. Doesn't it often seem to go like that? I scoured the peanut butter, jelly, and condiment aisles. I tried several different stores and the “health food” section of different stores to no avail. I would ask for it, but nobody had heard of it or knew where to find it. “I know you have it,” I would say, lamely.

Finally, yesterday at Safeway, I asked a clerk if they had any Marmite. He gave the usual “never heard of it” response to which a woman nearby replied in a British accent, “It’s a savoury sandwich spread and I know you have it.” We still couldn’t find it, but now I had an ally in the search. We told him we thought it would be with the sandwich spreads or condiments, but it wasn’t. He got interested in finding out what it was. “If it is a yeast item you might find it in the baking section.” He suggested. “No, no, no!” we both said. The other woman described its signature dark brown, plump jar and it’s savory taste. It wasn’t used in baking, but maybe for gravies or soups. He went to go search a computer. Kadin was slumped over, waiting, in the cart. Rees, other things on his mind, went off to get some Star Wars Cheeze-Its. Just as the man was returning we heard a yell from a couple aisles over. The British woman had found it. It was in fact in the baking aisle, but with the powdered egg whites and puddings. “I think you have it misfiled,” she said. I’ll say, I would never have thought to look for it with the Jello-brand products. But hey, they had it. I will now keep my eyes open and try to remember in which section the marmite is categorized. Bet you know what we are having for lunch today.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

And so far...

The first morning since the birdhouse was installed and…all is quiet! I was thrilled at breakfast to see pine shavings (as opposed to our house insulation) being picked out of the new birdhouse and hurled to the ground. A layer of pine shavings now covers the layer of pink insulation fluff in our garden. So far, so good. Hooray!

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Meet the flickers

The woodpeckers have arrived for spring. They’ve made their presence known in a big way. “Cool!” you might say, "woodpeckers are so cool." They are indeed.

I remember when I first arrived in Colorado and saw a pair of large, speckled birds with bright red necks on the lawn. They were amazing and beautiful and fairly tame. “What are these wonderful creatures?” I wondered. I looked them up and found them to be “the common flicker,” a woodpecker that, in addition to pecking in trees, also browses on the ground. Though annoyed at the “common” designation (why do I only seem to see things labeled “common”?), I enjoyed seeing many of these birds.

Almost a year later I have become more familiar with their behavior. I have watched them in the trees in the back yard and watched them fly and perch up under the eaves of the house. They have a large curved beak, which is distinctive and could be considered either comical or noble depending on your point of view, and they make a throaty warbling sound that would not be out of place in the soundtrack of a cartoon. Their eyes, in contrast, are not comic, but piercing and wild. They are interesting, but also large and common, a bit clumsy seeming, and they don’t impress you with their intelligence. The magpies seem smart and feisty, but the flickers are a bit dumpy. I now think of them as the pigeons of the woodpecker family.

Two weeks ago, when we returned from a camping trip, we noticed some pink fluff all around the flower beds out back. I assumed the wind had deposited some insulation from a nearby construction site there. Then we heard the drill, the repeated pecking and jack-hammer-like rattle of the flickers on the siding. Did we have bugs? Did they not have enough trees?

A few days passed and Greg went out back to investigate. Two large, jar-sized holes now existed in the house. The pink fluff was from a construction site, but not a nearby one. It came from the flicker’s unauthorized nest construction on in our own house. After drilling through the siding, they would pick out the fiberglass with abandon.

Every morning at 6am we are awakened by their rat-a-tat-tat. This became much more disturbing now that we had the image of large holes being put in the side of the house. Our thoughts of the flickers became much less charitable. We would rouse ourselves, tiptoe out into the cold, and shoo them away. We could hear them laughing at our lame efforts, “ah-a-ah-a-ah!” a la Woody Woodpecker. We felt like the guy in Caddyshack haunted by the woodchuck.

We hung out the largest of the boy’s owl figurines. Rat-a-tat-tat. We filled the holes and nailed netting over them. Rat-a-tat-tat. We knocked on the inside walls in response. Pause. Rat-a-tat-tat. We covered the holes with metal patches. Rat-a-tat-tat.

Finally, we found some tips compiled by the neighborhood association for dealing with this problem. The only problem is, there is no sure-fire way to deal with this problem. There are many varied tips, which makes me think most of them don’t work. The tips range from ideas about deterring them to enjoying them, but not a few people were severely annoyed. One typical example says, “There are only two ways to handle the woodpecker problem. The first is to change the siding material…the second solution is to move.” Guns were mentioned several times along with the fact that flickers are considered endangered creatures and it is illegal to kill them or disturb their nests ($500 fine). Water guns were mentioned as an alternative, as was throwing old tennis balls at them.

The birds are beautiful but many people mentioned the Swiss cheese they had made of their siding and that these birds don’t seem too bright. They like to peck where they hear a hollow sound, whether there are bugs or not. They even like to peck on metal chimneys. Greg reminds me that their brains are very, very small and then they rattle them incessantly. What would you expect? Basically, they are Ot-nay Oo-tay Ight-bray.

I imagined the narrative to a nature documentary about the couple that is doggedly attempting to build their nest in our siding:
“The first hole proves to be too shallow.”
“They try again a few inches away.”
“Just as they feel they are making progress, a problem arises. The work is slowed as they are pelted by tennis balls, doused by squirt guns, and interrupted by screaming children.”
“Time is running out for this pair. What should they do? They might do better to pick another site for their nest, but they have come this far. Soon they must commit to a home for their coming family. If they abandon this site, will they have time to find another? Is the risk so bad here they should shoulder the risk of moving on?”

The idea that we liked the best from the compiled list is the one we have now tried. It is to buy a ready-made home for the flickers so they don’t have to make one in our siding. If they want a home, we will give them one. Then, since they are territorial birds, they will set up house and (theoretically) keep other woodpeckers away. We bought a flicker-sized birdhouse, stuffed it with pine shavings, and mounted it up on the side of the house near where they’ve drilled their holes. Will the familiar rattle wake us tomorrow morning, or will they be smart enough to find their new house? I am ever hopeful, but have little confidence in their rattled brains. Stay tuned….


It seems like there are two types of people in the world: those with good teeth and those with teeth that give them trouble. I am happy to say that I am one of the former, but unfortunately Rees is one of the latter. I have had to adjust to the fact that when the dentist says, “let’s just have a look,” it is never, “alright, looks good!” or “here’s a problem, but on closer inspection, it’s better than I thought.” With him, it is always “well, it’s worse than I expected” or “I’m not sure what to do.” And that is with four different dentists!

So my hope is gone. Now I expect it always to be worse than first expected. It is never good news. I don’t know that he has any real teeth left in his mouth. Luckily that is the baby teeth and we get a second chance with the permanent teeth. But even then, as his first permanent molars were erupting, there were cavities in them BEFORE THEY WERE FULLY ERUPTED!

And I had to get over taking it personally. When your children are very young, you are solely responsible for their health and wellbeing. When I found out he had his first cavity at age three, I wondered what I had done wrong: I didn’t brush his teeth enough, I ate the wrong things during pregnancy, I was sick during pregnancy, I fed him the wrong things or I fed him the right things but at the wrong times. Eventually, I let go of the guilt seeing it as fate or part of his particular constitution or path and now we work as a team to care for his teeth.

Oh yeah, and he takes such good care of his teeth, brushing twice a day (by a grown up at night and by himself in the morning) and flossing (by a grown up) daily. He is happy and willing to do this if it will help his teeth! He even likes dentists, probably because they have helped his mouth feel better when he was in chronic pain.

So yesterday when we went in for the final filling on one of the just-erupted molars, it happened. He had asked at the previous filling if Novocain was really necessary because he doesn’t like to feel numb afterwards. The dentist assured him that it was necessary. So he had the shot. But this time the dentist took a look and said, it’s small (it’s small! It’s a miracle!), let’s try it without Novocain. So she did AND IT WAS FINE! Unbelievable! And what a way to end a huge series of dental visits, starting from the day of his fifth birthday when his jaw swelled up with a huge, painful tooth abscess, and hopefully ending now two and half years later. Fingers crossed.

Sunday, April 03, 2005


There are triplets in Rees' 2nd grade class. When they show up, it is like a whole community has arrived. Three girls, all very different, with their own personalities and interests. Two of them are excellent runners and athletes, another is reading at an 8th grade level. They are all very creative, taking after their parents who are in advertising or marketing or some such creative field. Their mother is amazing, she not only has triplets, but is co-president of the PTA and very involved in her daughter's lives. One of the triplets has juvenile diabetes that requires constant monitoring and her mother has fully accepted the challenge of having, as she puts it, "the healthiest diabetic daughter on the planet."

Rees often tells me about stories that the triplets have told or written: "Patrick the Apatosaurus" and something about how their father went to Kansas and was "famous." Once when helping in class with a letter writing assignment, one triplet read to me her sentence to a friend: “I have two sisters too, but we’re all the same age.” I think how their parents respond to the question, “How old are you daughters?” with a simple, “Seven.” The other day, Rees told me that the triplets had read another story they had written to the class. The story was called “Dave” and was about how their father gave birth to them.

Doesn’t that just take the cake? It’s bad enough if one of your children doesn’t give you any credit for birthing them, but if you are a mother who has carried and birthed triplets, well, that’s no small feat, to be sure, and not even a thank you! Actually, I think the mother helped them write their story down and reveled in the irony.

Of course, I wondered if the girls were triplets as a result of fertility treatments. I even sort of assumed that they were, making that even more that the mother had to endure to have them. I also assumed that three children would be a lifetime's worth of children, a houseful, enough.

For Christmas, the triplets got a puppy. They were getting old enough now to care for themselves, maybe they needed a new baby in the family.

Then, the other day, I was working in Rees' classroom and the teacher asked me to help one of the triplets with her math. The assignment was a long, four- or five-page worksheet of money problems. I sat down to help her and found that she was quite capable of doing the math; she just didn't seem that interested. "It's so long," she said. And she was right. Her mind seemed to wander and she wasn't engaged in the money part. Then she made an interesting comment. "My mommy's going to have a baby and the doctors are stealing all of her money." It was an odd thing to say, but I didn’t ask any questions, just sort of acknowledged what she said. Then she elaborated and went on to say something about how much a baby costs.

It was so interesting. And now it all made sense. There were days when her mother couldn't come to give her her insulin injections. I had heard things like "their mother is in the hospital" or "she is having surgery." The mother seemed quite healthy to me so I wondered what kind of illness she had. I thought maybe it was elective surgery or cosmetic surgery or something. But she was going to have another baby, which means she was having infertility treatments. Wow. No wonder her daughter couldn’t concentrate on the money math, her association with money was infertility treatments. Then there was the interesting idea that her daughter thought you had to pay to have a baby, and I guess for many that is true. Actually, Kadin sometimes says we should buy a baby. I had never thought how infertility treatments would look to a child’s eyes—to a young girl's eyes. I think on the one hand it makes more sense to a child that you go to the doctor, pay some money, and have a baby. I also know that these girls feel very loved and maybe they see this as another way they are very loved and wanted. I wonder how it will affect the way they see themselves becoming mothers. And I wonder how it influenced their story about their dad “Dave.” Maybe they think it’s their mother’s turn this time?