Sunday, December 24, 2006


Kadin is still very enamored of the computer game Civilization where you set up civilizations and they evolve. A year ago he was telling me about how he had invented the alphabet (even though he couldn't read) and pottery and the wheel and so forth. The game is quite sophisticated and word intensive, so I don't know how he gets so much out of it. It has, in fact, taught him to read and much of his worldview comes from this game. When we traveled to England last summer our little preschooler would come up with statements that surprised us such as: "Elizabeth is queen of England. England has a monarchy." We realized he knew this from the game, and in the game it was Elizabeth I, not Elizabeth II, but we weren't about to burst his bubble.

Then there was the time he was playing at a friend's house and his friend's mother was telling them the Hanukkah story about the Macabees and the oil lamp that miraculously burned for eight days. "Now wait a minute," she told me Kadin had said, "Was this in the Middle Ages or the industrial ages? Because they didn't have oil until the industrial ages." She said it stopped her right in her tracks, and she didn't know. Okay, so they didn't have geological oil for energy in the middle ages, but they did have plant and animal oils for lighting. But when were the Macabees?

And then there was the other day when Kadin's civilization was really getting quite advanced. He was in the modern times and was building a space ship. "Dad," said our serious kindergartner as he came out of the office, "I have lots of research labs. They are very useful you know."

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Do women’s hands do heavy duty?

Have you ever asked yourself that question? Probably not, but you should.

I was out cutting juniper bushes for a garland and after all the landscaping I did this fall, I needed a new pair of gloves. So I went to the hardware store and looked and looked, but I could not find any gloves labeled “heavy duty” in women's sizes. There were these great, inexpensive, heavy-duty gardening gloves in men's medium or large (there is no men's small, apparently) but nothing comparable in women’s. I was sure I just wasn't seeing correctly, so when a female employee passed and asked if I needed any help, I asked her where the heavy-duty women's gloves were. She sighed and said she had worked as a landscaper for ten years and the glove issue was a constant frustration. You could get either reasonably priced men's gloves that fell off all the time, or expensive women's gloves that didn’t last. She said they just didn't make heavy-duty women's gloves in anything but the $20 version. Even then, she said, the quality was not good and they did not last as long as the same men's gloves. You can get heavy-duty men's gloves for about $5, so could wear out four pair of those for every one of the women's. All the women's gloves were labeled "medium duty” or “light duty.” What is up with that?

I decided on the cheaper pair of men's mediums, picked up a couple other items and went to check out. The guy at the register asked me if I had found everything I needed. "Yes," I said, "Everything except heavy-duty women's gloves."

"I know," he said, "Isn't it crazy how sexist the glove industry is? The manager at the store I used to work in was a woman and she looked everywhere for some heavy-duty women's gloves and wrote to all the manufacturers. They just don't make them."

I had no idea. I guess men don’t do “small” and women don’t do “heavy duty.” Maybe there would be a market if we changed the words. It's time to start a campaign. If anybody out there finds reasonably priced women’s gloves labeled “high intensity,” or some such, that would be great. Small men’s gloves labeled “firm fit” would be fine too.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Quote of the night

Rees just came in and put his head on my shoulder. I said he looked tired and should go to bed. He protested that he was too tired. "Too tired for bed?" I ask, then say, "Rees, do you know what the best way to stop being tired is?" I'm thinking a five letter word. He thinks for a minute then his eyes light up and he triumphantly calls out, "Tea!"

Oh boy, we're in trouble. I have never seen anybody fight sleep like that boy!


Recent articles in the local paper have really clarified for me the extent of athleticism in this town. The first article that really stuck with me was about an annual race in honor of an athlete named Daniel. The race is called the Danielesque. The idea is to celebrate a Danielesque way of life: When you have lost the path, "choose the trail that is the furthest, steepest, and most challenging…Charging up some monstrous hill in the midst of a blizzard, that's Danielesque. Putting your head down and pedaling harder against a raging head wind, that's Danielesque…Danielesque also means handling adversity with equanimity, and always paying attention to the needs of others."

What most people would consider "extreme" sports are actually mainstream here. Normal people make physical activity a way of life. Athletic ones do 72-hour marathons. Running a regular marathon—only 26 miles—is normal. Not running is pretty lax.

Then there was the gift-giving guide that highlighted a certain backpack as a nice gift. The selling points of this backpack included, according the paper, special dedicated pockets for your avalanche shovel and probe. That was an eye opener for me. I don’t know about you, but I, for one, take care to avoid avalanche prone areas and think that if you are the kind of person that finds it necessary to carry an avalanche shovel and probe on a regular basis, you are not long on this earth. But these matter-of-fact gift ideas—yes! that's exactly what I've been looking for!—make you question if not spending every weekend high on avalanche prone slopes means you are missing out.

Then there was another article about trail running at night. A seasonal kind of activity it seems. Yes, in Boulder, people don't just run on tracks or roads or treadmills, they run on hiking trails and they run up mountains. And, as if this wasn't enough, they do this at night. My humble opinion? That is a true addict. But as addictions go, at least it has a healthy aspect to it. It's better than being surrounded by alcoholics or compulsive gamblers.

And then there was the hike I did last week up to Bear Peak for the second part of my birthday, when Greg came back in town. Hiking Bear Peak is something I have wanted to do since we moved here. I can see the summit right outside my window and the trail practically starts at our front door. It’s not super high, but above 8,000 ft, and a good 2,000 ft above where we live. We went a long, gradual back route. After hiking for over 3 miles and gaining quite a bit of elevation, we came to a sign that said, “Private Property, NO TRESPASSING.” The next two lines on the sign were pure Boulder: “No hiking, no jogging.” We are half-way up a mountain and they have to specify “no jogging.” Most places it would be “no hunting,” but I guess that is a given around here as the large buck with antlers who stopped and stared at us near the sign attested.

Now I don't know how healthy it is to run 100 miles, but I do think this normalizing of physical activity is healthy. It certainly has rubbed off on me, if in only a small Bear Peakish way. Even when I have to remind myself: running trails at night IS NOT NORMAL! Packing an avalanche shovel and probe IS NOT NORMAL! It’s still fun to imagine: what if it was??

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Supersize theory

With the holidays approaching I have been thinking about traditions and childhood and in the process have come up with a new theory about supersizing. It goes something like this: when we are younger, we remember things as bigger and more plentiful than they seem to us as adults. Ask a person about their childhood home and it will be plenty big and functional even if in retrospect it seems small and pokey. I've noticed that pots and pans and cookie cutters look smaller to me now than they did when I was a kid. I remember the Narnia stories as huge, long epics when they are really quite short and have relatively simple plots.

So, maybe, as adults, as we are providing for our children, we want them to have what we had as children and in our mind this is bigger and more plentiful than it really was. So every generation, then, things will get proportionally bigger and bigger. More presents, more toys, bigger trees, larger sandwiches. Will it ever end?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

New decade

A friend took me out to lunch for my brithday. We explored LoDo, the lower part of downtown Denver. As we browsed in a trendy wine shop, I noticed that I was less interested in the fine beverages and artsy ways to store and serve fine foods than I was in discussing with the owner (a self-proclaimed "wineaux") how to get anchors into a brick wall for hanging things. And I was more interested in the cut-off wine bottle that she used for a pencil holder and all the ways you could cut up and reuse old bottles than I was in her $50-a-set coasters. A friend of hers stopped in and said his wife had just gone into labor with their first child. I said it was a good day to be born. In another store, I liked the rocks that were hand etched and colored with shoe polish more than the intricate bronze sculptures, and at the cowgirl shop, I liked the Jesus bandaids and the Last Supper after dinner mints more than the fancy cowboy boots (but I can't say I'd mind a pair of them either).

A delicious Cuban lunch---where we ate something that translated literally as "old clothes"--- was complimented by easy flowing, interesting conversation. Which continued through the coffee until it was time to pick up the kids.

It was good and refreshing and I feel ready for the next decade of my life.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

No carryon

The latest terror alert has helped me to question what I carry on an airplane. With so many restrictions, it is easier to just not carry anything. And I find this very freeing. Instead of worrying if I have everything, I worry about why I have nothing, and then I feel great relief when I remember that I'm supposed to have nothing! For a short flight, at least, you can be quite comfortable and unencumbered with nothing. You can amuse yourself with maybe a paperback in your back pocket or the in-flight magazine. You can doze, rest your eyes. You can eavesdrop or look out the window; meditate. You don't have to spend any time organizing your stuff or putting things away or double checking that you have everything. It's kind of like an elimination diet. Instead of thinking what you might need, you start with nothing and see what you miss. And for me, that's not much. Whee!

Friday, November 17, 2006


My grandpa died yesterday and I wanted to share a few memories. I have just started putting things back up on the walls (post-construction) so today got out and dusted off the clock he made from an old violin. It has a swinging pendulum that adds life to any room and is now ticking away in the office. It goes well with the cello lamp he made that is in the living room and the saw-blade clock that has graced every home we have lived in. I think that next I will go and tune the 1923 Gibson he sold to Greg (for an extremely reasonable price), the banjo guitar, and the mandola. The mandola he made for me from a tenor guitar so I could play with the same fingering as my viola. In this way, his vibrations and love of music live on.

Unlike most of my family, my Grandpa liked garage sales and old stuff. He liked to take something free and junky and fix it up like new. He liked to recycle, re-purpose, and reuse, way before it was trendy. I love these things too and see the same interest in Rees, the other collector and bargain hunter in my immediate family. I think Rees’s fascination for odds and ends is innate; I did not teach him to enjoy garage sales and garbage picking. And now I see that grandpa was the likely source of these interests.

I will think of grandpa every time I go down to my new basement studio. I loved his basement workroom and the feeling of creativity it harbored. It was his retreat. It was organized, but cluttered, and filled with innumerable fascinating things. I realized yesterday that, deep down, I’ve always wanted to have a room just like his. Now I do! He is the inspiration for that.

There were lots of other sides to him as well (he remembered everyone’s names and loved to tell stories, for example), but it was on this practical level that we connected most. He had a great sense of function and design and understood how things worked. He was careful and thorough and his patient work ethic will always be with me. It is something you don't see so much anymore and I am grateful I had a chance to experience it through his example.

He was not the sentimental type, so I will keep this short. But it is always nice to reflect how people have influenced you and how they will live on even after their old, tired bodies are gone.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Yes, I guess he did…

It was a cold morning and Kadin was getting ready for school. He is pretty conscientious about this and usually does a reasonably good job. When he said he was ready, I pointed out that he still needed a fleece and some long pants. He protested that he WAS wearing a fleece. Okay, he was wearing a thin, fleecy shirt and though it was technically “fleece,” it wasn’t “A fleece,” so I explained that it was important to wear layers. One thin layer of any material wasn’t going to be enough.

When we leave the house he is wearing a fleece over his fleece, but still has on shorts. “Shorts?” I ask. It was pretty cold. “Yes,” he said, “See? I put on layers.” Sure enough, he was dressed in two pairs of shorts. He was also wearing long socks, so it just didn’t seem a battle worth fighting.

Then, on the walk to school, as he and Rees were running around, the inevitable happened. He tripped, fell, and skinned both his knees. Not the time to rub it in (“I told you not to wear shorts…”) I instead picked him up and carried him the rest of the way to school.

We headed directly for the nurse’s office and some band-aids. The lights were off in the nurse’s room, but the principal was in the hall just outside. When I mentioned we were in need of a couple of band-aids, he came into the nurse’s room and showed us where they were. I was a little self-conscious that my kindergartner was wearing shorts, as his bloody knees so vibrantly illustrated, so I pointed out that I had suggested he wear layers, hence the two pairs of shorts. “Well,” the principal responded, an all too familiar tone in his voice, “He really did follow your instructions.” Yes, of all people, the principal should know about kids pushing the envelope. I’m sure it happens to him all the time.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Craft of the month: clementine lanterns

Here is a nice autumnal idea that I found in my Cosmo Doogood’s Urban Almanac (see plug at A few plugs).

Take a clementine orange and cut off the bottom. Carefully remove the fruit and leave the white stringy, pithy stuff that comes from the stem in the middle, attached. This will be the wick. You should now have a clean clementine skin in the shape of a cup with a wick in the middle. Pour in a few spoonfuls of oil, then light the wick. You will have a nice, glowing latern.

Note of caution: I was enjoying my clementine lantern, but accidentally left it burning. NEVER DO THIS! When I came back home, we still, thankfully, had a home, but the cup had fallen off its candle holder and made a dark, burnt spot on the table. My theory is that when the oil ran out, it started making enticing crackling sounds, and the cats came over and knocked it off. So use this neat idea with caution!

My next project? Refinishing the table.

Friday, November 10, 2006

It figures

We were a bit late to piano yesterday and there was a fender-bender in the school parking lot so it was a little tight getting out. Then at the next major intersection it took us about five light changes to get through. That was highly unusual. But we still had time to make it. Then we got stuck in traffic on campus. Maybe there was some event? To kill time, I turned on the radio and it was playing the Alanis Morrisette song Ironic, where the chorus goes: "It rains on your wedding day/ It’s a free ride, when you've already paid/ It's the good advice, that you just didn't take/ Who would of thought? It figures." And one of verses says, "It's a traffic jam when you're already late." By the end we were really late and I had lots of time to reminisce about the last time Alanis Morrisette hit the nail on the head.

It was 1997, Rees was just over 24-hours old, and we were home from the hospital for the first night. Things were not going well. Rees was upset, he wouldn't nurse, he wouldn’t sleep, and I was a wreck: in pain, exhausted, emotionally volatile. A nurse called to check to see if we needed a home visit or if we could wait until tomorrow. When I broke down in tears on the phone, she concluded that we did indeed need a home visit and said she'd be over in an hour.

Things were in chaos. There was laundry, milk, and dirty diapers strewn across the floor. There were two sleepless parents and a screaming, hungry baby that I wanted to just put back where he'd come from. How could anything ever be okay again? Then, miraculously, it all changed. I remember when the nurse arrived, the sun was coming in the window and shining on the bed where a sleeping baby lay in a nightgown that made him look like an angel. Greg had thoughtfully put on some soothing Mozart that drifted in from the other room. All was superficially well as we chatted with the nurse.

Rees woke up and she declared him healthy. She looked me over and declared me a wreck but gave me amazing reassurance. To this day I feel she saved my life. And then, as she and Greg and I were summing up, the Mozart CD ended and the next CD, one left in the changer pre-baby, came on. There was a pause and then the most horrible, caustic voice I had ever heard in my life screeched, "Do I stress you out?" It was Alanis Morrisette, someone whose edgy voice and music we had enjoyed a mere 48-hours before. The nurse looked up, startled, "What was that?" Greg, eyes wide, jumped up to turn it off. Adrenaline surged through the room. Alanis, the answer is, "Yes!" Haven’t been able to listen to that CD since.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Internet gaming

Rees came home one day last spring all excited about a game a friend at school had mentioned called Club Penguin. It was on a site Rees frequents where he can sample short, free computer games. Club Penguin was different from the other games because it was an interactive game. You can make your own character (a penguin) and interact with other penguin characters that other people have invented.

The boys were really interested in signing up, but they needed an email address. I didn't want them to use mine, so I made accounts for both of them on hotmail. As our first foray into the internet, I found myself teaching them not to use their real names or real information. On the one hand this felt weird, like teaching them to not tell the truth, but then I thought it could help them understand that other people may not be who they say they are online either. They could be anybody. I told them to use a name and age and zip that was close, but not quite right.

Kadin, in typical stubborn fashion, balked when I said, "Okay, now it wants your password. You need to use something you can remember." "I don't want to." Just because I said "need to" he refused? We went back and forth on this for awhile, me explaining why, him refusing, until we finally came up with a password he could remember. I mean really, it was not like I was doing this for my benefit!

So they signed up to Club Penguin and were off. I have never played the game, but here is the deal from my limited understanding: You create your penguin character and go around your penguin world playing games like tic-tack-toe and connect four with other penguins. When you win, you get "tokens." You can then spend your tokens at the store and buy things like clothes and toys and pets. It all seemed rather commercial to me. Then there is the hitch. You can only buy one kind of pet and only buy most things, like an igloo or decorations for your igloo, if you join and become a member. Membership is a subscription that costs approximately $6/month. Real dollars.

The neighbor boy came over during this and he was really interested in the game too. So he ran home to "play" with Rees. It was then that I knew that we had really entered a new world. In my day, we never went home to play with someone else, we stayed together in the same place. How passé that all seems now.

This penguin game looked very superficial to me, but it was novel for the kids. Rees bought a pet and that hooked him for awhile. Kadin loved it and would happily create new personas every time he logged on. Here was my five-year-old playing internet games with other people—supposedly other under-eights—in other places. It all seemed harmless, but the thought of lots of other pretty young kids around the world playing was odd. Kadin, for example, would start a game and then just walk away. That's something you probably wouldn't do in the real world, but he seemed unperturbed by such behavior in the virtual world. Lots of the penguins in the game seemed to just be standing around, clueless. Kind of like if you had a room full of under-eights and a couple of board games in the real world, if you think about it. These are truly strange times.

Rees and Kadin really wanted to join/subscribe, of course. We talked about this and about how much money it was and where they could get the money. We also talked about other ways they could use their money instead of buying toys for a character on the internet. And we talked about how the game was designed to get them to want to give it their money. The neighbor boy did join and bought more pets.

And then, the betrayal happened. The boy next door came over crying. Apparently one of his pets had run away. "I didn't play with him enough, so he left," he said.

Wow, so that is how they keep you coming back. If you don’t log on often enough, your pet runs away! I guess that you could argue that it is better to have a virtual pet run away than to ignore a real pet. Or that it is fine to have a virtual pet that requires no real TLC, but this virtual pet did demand screen time. And it is another way they get you to spend your time and money with the internet game. Games are designed to be addictive, but this is a whole new level of commitment.

The upshot is that so far, neither of my kids has joined, but they still, Kadin especially, enjoy playing from time to time. This all happened last spring, and now it seems that these interactive games are everywhere. The novelty has worn off and now this is a normal way for the kids to play.

It truly is a strange new world. I just heard a whole radio program today about one of these virtual worlds called "Second Life" that is for adults. People make their own virtual characters called Avatars and the can own virtual property and start virtual businesses where people buy virtual services or virtual products. People design virtual cars and make virtual inventions. There is a lot of real money going into this virtual world as well. Real commerce is happening via the virtual commerce. Real companies are getting involved. Reuters and Wired have created reporting desks and have real journalists assigned to report on news from this virtual world. Radio programs have sprung up in the virtual world to report on issues from Second Life.

It is a little bit hard for me to get my head around this or understand how someone would want to put that much time or money into something like this. But I don't think that will be a problem for my kids at all.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

More stuff

I just returned from a fun weekend in California where I saw my parents and went up to Davis to visit with my cousins, their two boys, and my aunt and uncle. It was great seeing everyone and just having myself to be concerned with for a change. Davis is a great town and they really do live in Pleasantville, with all its POSITIVE qualities.

Also made the compulsory stops at IKEA, Trader Joe’s, and the Japanese dollar store. So my previous post now becomes ironic after, yet again, I stuff a huge suitcase full of my purchases, max out my baggage limit, and make my father wait in the car outside the airport until I am sure they will let me on with all my stuff. I had a 30-lb carry on and checked a huge suitcase and a folding stool both at the size limits. I am not a low maintenance person to drop off or pick up at the airport!

All made it home safe and sound and now it is back to the fray around here. The only word I can think of is discombobulate. Maybe what I need to do is recombobulate, or just combobulate?

Everyone at home is happy. There is a dragon hanging from our kitchen ceiling, a cut out of a castle on the table, and what looks like many books-in-progress with words and illustrations strewn around the dining room.

Halloween is my next deadline. After knitting a beard for Kadin last week, I will make cloaks and chain mail this week.

It was warm and atumnal yesterday, but now it is snowing.

Friday, October 13, 2006


I have made a new discovery. It is obvious, as most discoveries are, but just to let you know. Instead of filling a cupboard, I purposefully leave some extra space for maneuvering. Duh. But it makes me wonder why I felt compelled to fill the space in the first place.

I've been doing a lot of organizing, post construction, and have noticed these interesting tendencies. I have already written about my compulsion to do things efficiently and this is sort of along the same lines. I first noticed my compulsion to fill things up when I was in the bulk aisle at the grocery store. I was filling a medium-sized container with almond butter and, as always, had trouble because after I filled it, putting on the lid would make it spill. And then I realized, why am I filling it? I could take a larger container and fill it half way. Or fill two smaller containers three-quarters full. Why did I feel that whatever container I had it had to be full? And then I noticed the same thing, but in reverse when I put liquid detergent in the washing machine. I felt I had to get every last drip out of the lid. Why? Using slightly less detergent would do no harm, and would actually save detergent in the long run. The caps are nicely designed so it can all flow back in anyway.

So that is my new revelation: stop short, leave space. Do not even get close to stuffing. Cupboards ARE full when there is still enough room to maneuver. Laundry detergent is empty when most of it has come out. The bulk peanut butter is full well before it reaches the top. Houses are full when they are closer to empty. And so and and so on.

My friend noted that whatever sized purse she had, it was always overfull. Same deal.

I remember someone saying that a similar philosophy is prevalent in France regarding just enough. They do not stuff themselves, but value stopping just short of enough. Quality over quantity and all that.

And time too, don't you think? My favorite inspirational quote of the day is: Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.

It’s a new outlook for me, and I’m going to give it a try. Full leaves some room for more.

Monday, October 02, 2006

World Cup withdrawal leads to baseball

We have been fortunate enough to be in Europe for the past three World Cups. The first was a trip we took to Italy when Rees was a baby. We really enjoyed the whole communal nature of the games: how everyone would gather in the piazzas to watch, and the excitement the play generated. It was great fun to witness such elegant athletes play "the beautiful game."

Four years later we found ourselves living in England and then we got to experience World Cup mania again, from a different perspective. England being more of a country of low expectations than Italy, with less self-love but just as much spirit. Also, as a much smaller country than the US, England tends to gripped much more strongly by certain media events. There is more of a group psychology about pop music or celebrities or certain national news stories. The England soccer team is very much part of this media groupthink. Needless to say, the World Cup is a big deal. When the England team beat old rival Germany 5-1, the country was ecstatic, in disbelief, and the headlines read: Don't Mention the Score.

We were happy when our trip to England and Norway this summer coincided, once again, with the World Cup. We were in England for the first England game where they beat Paraguay. We had our charts of the schedule and the teams and we enjoyed watching and hearing the post-game commentary.

The second England game against Trinidad coincided exactly with the time of our flight to Norway. As we were "deplaning" a flight attendant came on to announce the score of "nil, nil." The game should have been over. How could it be? A tie? Moments later the flight attendant came back on to say England had won 2 nil. Happy shouts went up from the passengers at this exciting last-minute victory!

A couple of days later, in Oslo, we watched the England Sweden game in our hotel room. The commentary was all in Norwegian so we didn't really get the subtleties, but we heard the cheers outside the windows when Sweden scored and the huge, happy reaction when they tied.

We followed the games as best we could, spending our breakfasts decoding the Norwegian paper. Sports writing is just about the most difficult thing to understand in a foreign language, I think. Hard enough to understand in English if you are not versed in the game!

Still, we enjoyed cable in the hotels, the brief things we did understand—“ikke rot kort”—and, finally, got to watch in English at Greg's Father's in New Jersey. The semifinal was at the same time as our Jet Blue flight home from NJ, and hooray! Jet Blue offers live TV on its flights. The game ended just as we landed.

Then we had to beg friends who had cable to let us watch the remaining games. I let myself into the house of neighbor one morning to watch with Kadin. Amazingly he let me watch the whole game. Well, actually, I bribed him by scratching his back while watching and he fell asleep. It was divine.

At the end of it all I went into withdrawal. No more suspense, no more building of excitement. I missed the world cup.

So I decided to get into baseball again. Baseball is almost the polar opposite of soccer, but it has its attractions. First, there is a game nearly every day. No endless waiting. Second, baseball is almost as good on the radio as on TV. Soccer is useless on the radio. You can't see the athletic grace the fouls, the acting. You know the score, but that is about it. Reading about it in the paper is almost better.

The pace of baseball (one of its main detractions to some), however, lends itself to the radio. To me this is an asset. The games are long, but you can listen and do other things at the same time. Every pitch has a statistic and a strategy behind it. You can picture it in your head. The suspense builds as the count goes full. Base runners get on base, outs are accumulated, inning pass, runs build.

So, this summer for the first time in decades, I started following baseball again. It was midseason and the suspense still lingered. I got to know the players of the Colorado Rockies and the announcers. It worked to fill the World Cup deficit.

The only problem was, the team did not do so well. Today, the 2nd of October, they are in last place, 12 games out of first in their division, with less than a 500 record. I hope you understand that. I have enjoyed getting back in to the jargon. But alas, the suspense is now over for me. The season done, more loses than wins.

Maybe next year.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

First days

The start of the school year brought much anticipation and hope. All was dashed when, on the second day of kindergarten, Kadin marched out with his arms folded tight and a huge frown on his face. Thinking he was upset because he didn't get to be first in line or some such minor disappointment, I tried to ignore his mood as we stepped aside and waited for Rees.

"I need to talk to you," the teacher said as she looked my way. "He is very stubborn and defiant. I don't know what to do. What do you do at home? We need to nip this in the bud."

I was flabbergasted and didn't know what to say, so basically said as much: "Wow, that comes as a huge surprise to me." I mean, Kadin is stubborn, sure, but he is basically sweet and pliable. (Now that she mentions it, though, if I look back at posts about him, his stubborn streak does stand out…)

"I'll call you later." She said.

Okay, well, there goes the plan of getting into her good graces! I walked home with a very sad and upset child. It was like he was ill, a completely different kid. I felt like I had been kicked in the chest.

Luckily, one of Rees' friends was there. He saw how upset Kadin was and said, "Kadin, are you in Mrs. X's class?" Kadin nodded. "I used to be in her class and it was so bad, I hated it, and I used to get in trouble all the time." Kadin was listening.

So I asked Rees' friend what happened and what he did about it. "I just finally decided to try doing what she said." "What happened then?" I asked. "Oh," he said, "Things got SO much better." "So you were happy with your decision to do what she said?" "Oh yeah,” he said confidently, “It was the right decision."

I was tempted to tell Kadin to shape up and just do what she said, but he seemed so sad and hurt that I decided he just needed to be comforted and then we could talk about what to do later.

At the same time, I was thrown into doubt as I tried to notice whether he was truly stubborn and defiant or if something else was going on. All evening, if I asked him to do something, he would either refuse or say "Okay!" or "Sure!" He didn't want to put his shoes away, so the next time he wanted my help with something I just said, "I'm happy to help you as soon as you put your shoes away." Eventually he put his shoes away.

I racked my brains about what could be going on. He hated kindergarten and he hated his teacher. He was angry and hurt. He was exhausted. Finally we lay down on the bed and had a long discussion about it. He said he didn't want to do what she said. We talked about options including not doing full-day kindergarten, changing to the morning class, changing teachers. (Visions of home schooling bounced in my head, but I remained mute on that subject.) I told him that he was a really good guy and that we would find a way to make kindergarten work for him. Finally, I suggested, "Or you could try what [Rees’ friend] suggested." He agreed this was a something he could try.

The phone never rang. I felt very protective of Kadin and wondered what this witch had done to bring out the worst in him. I also realized that taking that approach with her would get me nowhere. Instead, I rehearsed saying how difficult I knew her job was and how motivated I was to make this work. I remembered how Kadin had told me he liked to watch first before he joined in. Maybe that was it? Maybe he just wanted to watch first? And it brought up all kinds of insecurities. Had I not set enough limits? Would he have any friends if he was labeled the “bad kid”? I had thought he could easily end up being the teacher’s pet. But it looked like he could just as easily be her nemesis as well.

I decided to focus on the positive: his good qualities, my good qualities, and the teacher’s good qualities.

Finally, the next morning at 7:30, I went over to the school. I just had to talk with her. I was tired of second guessing what was going on. Our talk was good. She said she was also distressed. I encouraged her to let him watch first and assured her I didn’t think he would be disruptive. She told me more about what he had (or hadn’t) been doing. She said at the end of the day, she wouldn’t try to talk with me but would give me a thumbs up or a thumbs down to let me know how things had gone. Meanwhile Greg brought Kadin to school and said Kadin had decided to try [Rees' friends'] idea.

I don’t know what happened, but whatever it was, it worked. Maybe they both gave just a little bit so that neither of them had to dig in their heels. At the end of the day, we got the thumbs up. Things have been fine ever since. In fact, more than fine. We just had a glowing parent/teacher conference. They are best buddies. He wants to invite her to his birthday party.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


We were invited to Elitch gardens, the local 6-Flags amusement park, as a night out with BILs law firm. Amusement parks are not our thing so it was a new and novel experience for us all.

Kadin was hesitant and thoughtful with comments such as: "No, I don't want to go on that one." "Why would anyone want to do that?" "Mom, this one makes a funny feeling in my tummy." "Yes, I do want to go on that one." "Don't spin." "Spin more." "That was fun." And the dreaded, "I feel like I'm going to throw up."

Rees was bursting with anticipation and excitement. He wanted to do it all. And yet, not. You didn't want to stand too close to him in line because you might inadvertently get a head or an elbow excitedly thrown into some part of your body. There was just no way he could hold still and wait. Not even close. And we had to find the rides with the right amount of thrill: not too slow, but not too much terror. Still, he was persistant.

At one point, Rees was on a mini roller coaster. After each round the ride operator would stop the cars and ask, "Anyone want to get off? Anyone want to go again?" Rees would say, "Again! again!" Just across from him was Kadin, the lone rider on a very slow, very flat little train ride. He chose to sit in the middle car, not the front, not the caboose. He was sitting properly, very straight and very still as it gently made its way around the track. He might as well have been wearing a flowered hat.

Then, at the end of the night, Rees wanted to do "one more" and "one more." While Kadin was saying, "It's late, I'm tired. I want to go home. Look, Dad, look at the sky. It is dark. It’s time for bed. Why would anyone want to be awake?"

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Just the other day

We are at the pool and the boys are being their typical selves.

After months (years?) of trying to get Kadin to put his head under when he swims (yes, he swims, or dog paddles, very slowly and very relaxed, with his head just above water…it’s okay but not the most confidence inspiring…) he informs me that instead of taking swimming lessons, he wants to take sinking lessons. He hated swimming lessons because they wanted him to put his head in the water and he hates being told what to do. So I just say, yeah okay, whatever, and watch and he proceeds to sink under water then come back up. Wow! He’s doing it! That’s the ticket! I should have had him take sinking lessons all along! Duh!

Meanwhile, Rees is diving about wearing a wet suit, snorkel mask, and flippers, looking like the creature from the deep. As he walks in from the pool, the tip of one of his flippers gets wedged under a chair. He bends and starts whimpering, looking to us for sympathy. What? Then I see the crooked smile coming out of the corner of his mouth. Very funny indeed---as if his flipper had nerve endings!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Filling in

I'm back! and will start posting things that didn't get posted this summer. I'll cram them all in and post-date them. I am posting this as August 22nd, but am writing it on October 12th. A lot has happened with summer travel and activities, and I hope some of these posts fill in the cracks. Since school has started, I painted and decorated Rees' room, we hosted a salon, Kadin had a day of reckoning, we went camping (again), Rees had a spy birthday (9), and I have been a landscaping maniac, obsessively trying to get trees and shrubs in the ground before the first frost (success!). Weather is now conducive to more indoor activities, so the house (new!) and computer beckon. Only, I leave tomorrow for a weekend in CA, so not sure how much will get up today...

What he knows

We just got back from a quick camping trip. After Kadin had used the pit toilet he says, "Mom, there was a sign in there that said: Please do not throw any trash down the toilet. It is excellent difficult to remove. Thank you."

"Wow," I said, "did you just read that?" And I'm thinking: excellent/extremely, close enough.

"Yeah," he says, nonplussed.

"Kadin, your kindergarten teacher is going to be so impressed." (He starts kindergarten in four days.)

"Yeah," he says again confidently, "Because I know not to throw trash down the toilet."

Right. That too.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


Okay, so it is August. We have been back for a month now. Looks like blog is on summer break. Similar phenomenon happened last summer. Kids are around 24-7 and Kadin continues to monopolize the computer (online gaming happily forgotten for the moment, though). Many posts on that and more coming–they are on my PDA–and will be posted when it is cooler and when I have a moment to breathe. Good news is that an article I wrote for Mothering magazine will be published in their upcoming Nov/Dec 2006 issue. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


Kadin's busting out in every way. In the past few months, he's taught himself to swim, read, and do the monkey bars. He's gotten interested in internet gaming. After two years of refusing to touch the piano keys (but in the meantime learning to read music), he finally gave it a try and now he can't be stopped. He sounds out songs and plays them (with one determined finger ONLY, mind you), and plays often. I have to write that, because that is the good part (except for maybe the internet gaming, more on that later...).

And just as some things seem to be coming together, the cooperation front has gone to pot. Any hint that you want him to do something will result in instant refusal, even if it is something he wants. His determination is extreme and often extremely annoying. His most common phrases these days are: "No," "why?" and "I don't want to." I'm hoping it's just end-of-the-school-year-itis, and the trip to England and Norway (tomorrow) is just the distraction he needs.

Be back in July!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Good stone

So I have written about how I do not like stone. It makes me nervous. But stone and I have had a bit of a reconciliation of late, now that the front patio has been laid. I think all the difference was that it was dry laid. That means it was laid without cement or mortar or, god forbid, "liquid nails." That and the fact that the two masons who worked on it were true artisans. They didn't just do their job adequately, they sought to challenge themselves and do it to a high, artistic standard. They would put down maybe only two stones a day, and shape them and fit them perfectly. It was fun to watch. When I had discussed design and budget beforehand wioth them, I had suggested a more casual job, with perhaps growing things in between the stones. "Growing things?" He asked. "You mean with wide joints? Wide joints would be ugly." So we left the wide joint "stepping stones" to the unskilled likes of Greg and me, and he and his partner did the high skilled stuff.

They incorporated the large, natural boulders we already had out front, and it looks great. At first I was concerned that that would harm the large boulders. But because they did it without mortar, it looks natural and removable. The stones have not been altered. And the mason told me that, ironically, laying the stone without concrete or mortar makes it more permanent.

Concerete and mortar can chip and crack over time so need to be repaired. Also, mortar doesn’t move so can't adjust to minor settling or changes in the soil or freeze/thaw cycles. And with concrete and mortar, you can't go back. It's difficult to remove.

This dry laid is perfect, then. It is solid and permanent, but not irrevocable. I like that. I am very happy that it can adjust and change over time, and that, for a change, it is not set in stone. Phew! And as Kadin put it, "Mom, I'm glad we did that at the front of the house, it is better than that pile of mud." Oh yeah.





Saturday, June 03, 2006


When I was a kid, I used to be disturbed by sounds in the night. I would hear creaking and sharp snaps that sent chills up my spine. On one level I knew they were nothing, but, without my permission, they became huge events that jolted me to my core. I was terrified.

I don't notice these sounds any more. Once in a while, when I am sleeping at a new house, I will notice a creak or two, but in general, it seems what was once a big deal is now gone.

I don't miss them, but I wonder if my children are attuned to similar creaks or if I just lived in an especially creaky house. Lately I've been trying to notice the creaks. Are they still there? To a child's ears are they big and ominous? I can’t hear them, but I think the kids do.

Ironically, just when I can no longer notice creaks, I think I have better ears than ever, having developed that part of the brain that is "mother's ears." The part that constantly monitors background noise for any aberration. Have my "mother's ears" somehow drowned out my "child's ears"? I just don't think my children hear the same things I do at all. What are they talking about?

And then I think, why are they worried? What do they have to worry about? When maybe that is it. We are each worried about totally different things. To them, the world is big and mysterious, full of strange happenings, unexplainable events, proverbial monsters. To them, these are very real, but to me, “it just your imagination.” (I don’t say that, actually, but it’s tempting sometimes.) Sounds are huge, unknown, scary. From my point of view, there is just so much to understand and keep track of and so little sleep to be had that I now habitually screen out mere creaks and groans to leave room for the myriad other details. We will always occupy our minds with something, and it seems the fuller they are, the less we need to sweat the small stuff.

At least that is one theory. And then I heard a story last week on NPR that gave me another idea. I would have thought the story was an April Fool’s joke if it hadn’t been broadcast in May. The story was about an inventor who invented this sound that can be broadcast to repel teenagers. Try it here. It turns out that most people over about 30 can’t hear in the high frequencies anymore, but teenagers can. By playing a high frequency sound and pulsing it, teenagers get irritated and leave, but adults can’t hear it and aren’t bothered at all. It has been used outside stores where teens used to congregate and has successfully driven them away.

Ironically, the teens have since taken back the sound. (The inventor’s 16 year old daughter was also interviewed). They recorded it onto their cell phones. Only, the high frequency was too high to record, so one of them went home and created a slightly lower frequency on their computer and recorded that to the cell phone. Why? They use this sound as their cell phone ring tone because adults, namely teachers at their schools, can’t hear it, and they can then surreptitiously text message to their heart’s content, teacher being non the wiser. Whoa.

So, here is the link to the teen buzz. Try it and see if you can hear it. At normal volume, I can’t hear it at all. If I turn up the volume all the way, I can hear it a bit, and it is annoying. I shudder to think there are things I can’t perceive, but it is true. And just when I get to a time in my life when sounds, usually loud sounds made by the kids, suddenly really are irritating I find I am losing my hearing. How can this be? Maybe my kids really do live in a different aural universe. Maybe they really can hear monsters. And now I blame them, and think that maybe adults adaptively loose their high frequency hearing after the first baby… I mean, how many more irritating things do you really need?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Ode to itching

I do not understand itching.
Of all the things our skin can do,
why itch?
Pain I understand.
I have learned to listen
to pain.
If I don't heed its warning,
there is a consequence.
But itching?
How is that adaptive?
It's a cruel trick our body plays on us.
You itch,
but you're not supposed to scratch.

(Enough with the fancy line breaks). The only thing I can think of is that itching is the pleasant sense of touch gone awry. It is a curse, something nice turned evil. And it is not even a very picturesque curse. Blood, gore, death, mental illness, consumption. They've all be written about, dramatized, and romanticized. Itching and rashes, not so much.

Usually not fatal, itching isn't taken seriously. But let me try to illustrate just how drastic it can be. When the millions and billions of nerves of your skin, a major organ of your body with the greatest surface area, turn on you, you are in trouble. Your whole nervous system goes on high alert and you become highly irritated in every sense of the word. Your interface with the world goes into fight or flight mode, but you can't escape.

You can't even really talk about it or get much sympathy. It is not polite conversation. Mention a rash and watch as people take a few steps away. Yes, I guess lots of kinds of itching are signs of uncleanliness or communicable diseases, hence it's pariah status. It is a lonely, unromantic affliction.

But I can write about it on the computer and can't see your reaction. Hah! So I dedicate this post to all who itch. After six distracting weeks of itching (my body's multi-phase reaction to poison ivy, ever inventive, suprising me anew with each rash du jour) and pretending I don't, I can write about it and someday, envision a world where itching is respected and incorporated into our culture and media. Someday there will be a the great dramatic novel with the charming main character who is afflicted by poetic itching. There will be country songs with clever double entendres about the urge to scratch. There will be TV sitcoms sympathetic to chronic skin diseases. People will find important messages in their rashes. Yes, I can see it now. It is time for this despised affliction to be brought to light, recognized and respected. Ignoring it and shunning it does not help it go away, but only adds insult to injury of all who itch.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Field work

Just spent two weeks in a major change of pace: was out doing tree-ring dating for a project of Greg's. Greg, who stayed behind and had to teach, held up the home front remarkably well, and, thanks to friends and play dates, the kids seem none the worse for wear.

I went out to Southeastern Colorado with Vanessa, a friend and dendrochronologist (tree ring dating expert) from Oxford. Traveling with Vanessa was easy. Logistics were a breeze with someone who is well able to think ahead and take care of themselves, not to mention has a interesting life and keen sense of people. I learned many things, but primary among them, the following:

I should avoid poison ivy at all costs. The itches are bad enough, but then there is the threat of infection, which reared its ugly head until I fought it off. And I have been plagued with series of freak-out skin rashes ever since. My skin just doesn’t get it that this plant is not a threat. It gets fooled every time.

Tecnu is my friend. Greg says he thought it was developed by the army to decontaminate people who had been irradiated. And yes, it is some kind of potent, noxious solvent. But it offered hope and respite when things were looking grim on the poison ivy front.

I like being out doors. We saw no other people in the field, but lots of wildlife. I was excited to spend the days in these dry, grassy arroyos. The occasional break with a trip to the store was also nice. I liked the balance of peace and quiet and activity. Who knew Safeway could be so exciting? Who knew how enchanting an empty plain could be?

I like taking care of only myself. Wow, hard to imagine doing that for a whole week. A non issue, really. Nothing more to say about that.

I like using my brain. I realized how bored out of my mind I am by the daily grind. No wonder the thought of cleaning the kitchen is usually accompanied by an overwhelming urge to lie on the sofa. I might be lazy, but I'm also bored. Much more fun to puzzle out a project, think about how the world works, and, with Vanessa’s help and guidance, find ways to coax the trees' life history out of them. What have they seen? What they've been through? What dramatic events have taken place in this seemingly placid place? "Reading" the landscape in this way with all your senses is a most enjoyable kind of puzzle.

The army is hugely complex and more interesting and diverse than I knew. Many good, public-works type projects come under the army umbrella of funding that have nothing to do with combat. When told by someone that they suspected I did not like the army, I should have replied that I didn’t know very much about the army. Instead, I said, “You think that because I am from Boulder?” Guess it is not hard to put two and two together.

While it is polite to accept an MRE (meal ready to eat) and interesting to see the way they are heated, they cannot compare to the excellent sandwiches we had for lunch.

I learned that people can be charming as acquaintances, but potentially maddening if you are related to them. It's the same, I think, with countries. They can be charming when you are a visitor or living there as a foreigner. But if it is your county, it can be terribly embarrassing.

I miss the days when Greg and I would do field work together. I now have a new goal of figuring out a way to make that work. If not now, in the near future. Maybe we'll just have to take it in small doses for a while, until the kids get older. I think they could handle being out in the field with us for a day or two at a time.

Sunday, April 02, 2006


After capping off the sites with a trip down into the cone of extinct volcano Capulin, in Northern New Mexico, we head back up to civilization and spend a pleasant night with my brother and his family near Colorado Springs. Greg’s field site is not too far away from them, so we decide to revisit it on the way home.

During our first stop there, the batteries on Greg’s handheld computer failed, so we had to cut the surveying short. Before we left, I saw some abandoned farm buildings in the distance. I thought it would be fun to have a look around since we knew nobody lived there. The road goes right by them, but hidden between us and the buildings is a big, deep mud hole, and wouldn’t you know it? My expert driving gets us stuck right in the mud. Ughh. We are trapped, miles from anywhere and anyone. We strategize and Greg gets out to push. Not much friction anywhere and his shoes now have about 18 pounds of mud caked on each. Still, not much choice but keep trying. What a great start to our trip. Some rocking of the car, some turning of the wheel, some pushing, slipping, and sliding, and we are finally free. Very muddy, but free. So much for the farm buildings.

When we return to the site five days later we are sure to have recharged batteries and a renewed respect for mud holes. Luckily it is drier now. We enjoy some more surveying, but it is the end of a long trip and the boys are anxious to get home. We finish up and get in the car to return to the house much to their jubilation. Turn the key. Car is dead. The boys had been playing the car and had left the lights on for what, maybe two hours? Uggh. But hey, no problem, it is a stick shift and we are at the top of a hill. We have the whole length of the hill to jump start the car. Once again, my expert driving has us halfway down the hill without a started car. I ask Greg what I am doing wrong. Turns out I should also have the key in the ignition turned on. Ooops! I have another chance, so try again, the car starts, then stalls again and now we are in a saddle at the bottom of the hill. No momentum. No nothing.

Hmmm. Only option is to push it up the hill and try again. We push it up the hill a bit in front of us and try to jump start it in reverse. No luck. We try this two more times. No results. The kids are distraught. Then we decide to back it up the hill behind to try again in first gear. It is hard pushing up hill. We pull the emergency brake and rest in between bouts of pushing so we can get even higher up the hill. We draw marks in the dirt as goals to reach. We count and sing sea shanties to coordinate our efforts. Rees helps and it is really helpful. We empty out the car to lighten it. We are exhausted and we can’t get it any further up the hill. This is it. Our last chance in the middle of nowhere. For some reason, I am entrusted with this chance. I put in the clutch, let off the brake, give it some gas, and, when I am at the very bottom of the hill with maximum momentum, I let out the clutch, and, yes, the engine kicks in. We’re saved! Engine running, we reload the car and we are off for home.

All this fancy equipment, but it’s useless without batteries. Maybe we should invest in a solar charger, or a horse.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Middle of nowhere

We head out on I-70 past the airport. We plan to start off the trip doing some surveying at a site Greg is working on east of Aurora. East of Aurora is synonymous with the middle of nowhere. And this isn’t just an urban bias. It is a fact that the population drops off precipitously. And to many this is a good thing. As we drive out east past the airport, just as the Interstate narrows down to four lanes, the map atlas we are using changes scale. For Eastern Colorado, there is one page of map for every four pages of map for Western Colorado. That is just how sparse it is. Big sky. Things few and far between.

I am loving it. It is great to have no traffic, no traffic lights, just wide open spaces. When we survey in the canyons, it is so quiet. No one will pass by. We can count on this. The kids even seem to enjoy it and find games to play and ways to amuse themselves. After surveying, we drive south on dirt roads for hundreds of miles. We will not see a Starbucks for five days. We encounter pronghorn, oil wells, cemeteries, cheap hotels, canyons, a roadrunner, rabbits, hare, deer, extinct volcanoes, petroglyphs, horses, mules, cattle, springs, and ruins. It is great.

Bent’s Old Fort turns out to be very nice. Closest thing to a castle in these parts. The boys love it too and want to spend lots of time exploring. Only catch (typical) is that when we finally get to the fort and settle in to watch the video, Kadin starts getting fussy and complains that his ear hurts. He can’t get comfortable and is really in pain. We have just arrived, but we have to leave. This leads Rees into a meltdown. But we have to help Kadin out of pain. Luckily, back in the car, we find the painkillers we need and 20 minutes or so later (after his father and I carry this growing 5-year-old all over the place), he seems fine again. One more dose of painkillers gets him through the night and then the problem seems to resolve itself. Phew!

Sunday, March 26, 2006


Stone is in, house is nearly done. Yes, after nine months, life might now starting to return to normal. No more strange crews in the house, no more cramped living quarters, no more other people’s music, no more dust. Yea! No more dust! Hard to imagine living without dust.

The finalé comes next week when they finish the floors and we have to evacuate. The finish, some super-duper product, has toxic fumes, so we are forced to flee for 3-5 days. Normally the word toxic would disturb me, but somehow, since it is a Swedish product, I am fine with it.

Luckily, the timing of the evacuation corresponds with spring break and our trusty cat sitters are happy to cat sit again. Only problem is, The Great Financial Debacle limits our options. First plan is a camping trip, but when we look at the weather, we find the nearest place warm enough to camp is nearly 1000 miles away. (This after freezing over the last two Spring Breaks.)

So plan B. Plan B is to go to Mesa Verde in the four corners area. Rees has been studying Mesa Verde and Southwest Native Americans so the timing seemed good. A little research shows cheap hotels in the area. A little more research shows the timing is not so good. The ruins don’t open for another couple of weeks.

So plan C. Plan C is to go to Southeast Colorado. There is very little in Southeast Colorado, but that is the point. Our plan is to go to the middle of nowhere. There we don’t know what we will find, but we hope to encounter untrammeled areas to explore and cheap hotels. I had also heard of an interesting place called Bent’s Old Fort, a reconstructed fort from the mid 1800s that was once on the Santa Fe trail and is now a living history museum. Weather forecast looks good, and since there is nothing there, expectations are low.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

He’s mine

I was walking Rees to his friend’s house. After we'd gone about a mile, a female jogger passed us, and Rees started jogging along with her. When they were about 100 yards ahead, I heard a woman out in front of her house ask the jogger, “Is he yours?” That’s odd, I thought, so I waved and yelled, “Hello! He’s mine!” Just so she could see that the young boy was not alone.

Another woman, getting into her car across the street, asked me, “Does he kill cats?”

“What?” I asked, sure I had misheard.

“Does he kill cats?”

“Kill cats?” I asked again and answered laughingly, “Nooooo, he does NOT kill cats!”

“Hmm,” she said, “Some of them do, you know.”

“Kill cats?” I said again.

She seemed really annoyed with me and observed, “I see you have him off leash.”

“Off leash?” What was she implying about my son? Was she really that scared of young boys? “You think I should put him on a leash?” I was incredulous, starting to get really angry.

And that is when I noticed the stray dog up ahead by Rees. The dog I had apparently just claimed was mine. It was okay after that. She was baffled, but we worked it out.

Sunday, March 12, 2006


I had to send the stone back with the Ukrainian guys. I was so nervous when they came. I hadn’t seen the piece of stone we had picked for the fireplace for a while. And now, after weeks—months—of looking at a dusty hole, we were going to have one finished part of the living room. They brought up the side panels and they were close. They almost fit, and then, with a bit of maneuvering, kicking, and coaxing, they were in! I liked them. I liked the stone. There they were, solid and unmovable. Then came the top, a much bigger piece. They took out some of the window trim to get it in. I couldn’t watch. I had to go downstairs.

Stone, I realized, just makes me so nervous. It is heavy and permanent and hard to work with. With wood or fabric, you can stretch or bend or cut away a bit. Stone, not so much. Its weight alone is enough to break it. It is impervious. No going back. Set in stone. I heard some thumping, a crash, some loud Ukrainian expletives. Then there was a knock on the door.

I was to come and look and approve. Approve? It’s in? It’s okay? I went up to see a nice, smooth top, not broken, not chipped, fitting nicely. Wow. It was there. Solid as stone. I was pleased. I approved.

And then, getting over my initial relief, I noticed the side panels. They were wrong. Not how we wanted them. With the top on you could see where the sides were too short. It could have been meant to be that way, but I knew it wasn’t. “What?” they said, “You want us to take it all back to the shop?” Take it back? It was here, all set, take it back? “No, you keep, you like,” they said. We discussed. We debated. There had to be another way. The live-in painter, always interested in a good discussion, worked hard to mediate. They almost drove out the driveway, but then I knew we had to stop them. The painter ran out to break the bad news. They took it back.

They left the top, though. Something in Ukrainian was bantered about punctuated with the words, “Liquid Nails.” Turns out they were afraid that the top would break if they removed it because of the “Liquid Nails,” a product that apparently lives up to its name. Now I wait and wonder what they will bring back. Will it fit as well? Will it ever be right? I find I am not so fond of stone.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Great Financial Debacle

About two weeks ago I woke up in the middle of the night with a stark realization. I had been wondering, deep down inside somewhere, why it seemed like we would not quite have enough money to finish the addition on the house. We had been comfortable with the budget the contractor gave us. We were able to pick and choose along the way which options to go with and we had been careful to stay within the budget. We had even calculated in some breathing room, knowing that projects always go over budget and that there are always extras at the end. We had added in our minds an extra cushion for that and some landscaping and maybe a few new pieces of furniture. And we had been checking along the way to make sure our money was going where we wanted it to go. After a couple of really big bills in January, though, I realized it wasn't working out as planned. Why? What happened?

And that is when the near-subconscious nocturnal thought occurred to me that, just possibly, the contractor's fee was not part of the budget. It is a "cost plus" job, which means he charges us his cost plus his fee which is an additional 18 percent. He doesn't charge us for his labor. The fee is how he gets paid.

He has worked hard, has been conscientious about staying within budget, and has been really great to deal with. We couldn't have done it without him. Bottom line: he has earned and deserves his 18 percent. Only problem is, we didn't figure that into our budget! All the while, when we were staying within budget, we should have been trying to stay 18 percent BELOW budget. Ughh. On that cold and dark February night, our extra cushion, and then some, vaporized in an instant.

So, after beating myself up for my (our, really, as Greg was just as involved in all this as I was, and just as green behind the ears) stupid mistake, the financial mistake of a lifetime, really, I tried not to think about years of austerity measures and a deferred retirement, but instead, to look on the bright side.

And believe it or not, there really is a bright side. I have lots of mixed feelings, but have felt strangely more alive since what has become known in our house as The Great Financial Debacle.

After going from "comfortable" to "pinched" in about 24 hours, I realize I feel more at home with austerity. Austerity (to a point) is familiar and feels more normal to me.

So here it is, The Bright Side:

Being constrained financially inspires me to be more creative. I realize I like the challenge of finding ways to save money. I also like inventing or making cheaper versions of things I would like to have. For example, do we really need curtains or shades on the windows or could we just temporarily glue nice rice paper on the lower portions?

In the same vein, the new austerity plan makes decisions ever so much easier. We were debating which flooring option to use in the entryway. We liked a cheap slate option, but also found a neat limestone with fossils embedded in it. We were debating whether the limestone was really three times better than the slate, when, whallah, decision made. Cheap slate it is!

I no longer have to peruse catalogs of nice, "respectable" furniture and try to decide which is best. I can now feel quite happy and lucky with a find at the local thrift store or in the back alley.

When we were "comfortable," I realize I felt a bit rudderless and burdened. Now I have clear directions and guidance.

From time to time I feel worried, like I don't know where the next meal is going to come from. Then I feel good because I think this is just the kind of stress that we humans are adapted to bear. It feels more "right" somehow.

I appreciate the things I have more. When we had (or thought we had) more leeway, we would take less time to save things or repair them. What was the point? If something was old and shoddy, well, it seemed like no big deal to replace it. In fact, I felt more compelled not to have old stuff around. Since we could (or thought we could) afford it, we were more part of the disposable culture. Now that buying a replacement is not an option, I feel closer to and more protective or our stuff. Instead of buying Rees a new dresser when his garage-sale one is falling apart, I take the time to lovingly glue it back together. I actually enjoy this. It feels grounded.

I appreciate my family more. Greg and I have been thinking about this and working on this without pointing fingers or assigning blame. We are working together to solve the problem and it has brought us closer. I really am the luckiest woman in the world.

I think about the ongoing neighborhood conflagration and can't help but reason that some of the ire comes from the fact that a lot of money is at stake. These are multi-million dollar homes that are involved and sometimes it seems that such homes, instead of contributing to peace and serenity, actually make people more greedy, vengeful, and litigious. Having just enough, but not too much, is a much more harmonious place to be.

Finally, I have been in transition mode for a while now about going back to work. Suddenly, wow! I feel much more motivated. It is not a dreamy option, it is imperative. And somehow that feels freeing too.

The bright side is that I have a great family and a great house and now have very clear goals and direction: to survive month to month and to slowly build back our savings. Seems so good, so normal.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Chaos reigns

Yesterday there was just SO MUCH NOISE in the house. One person was sawing and banging in a stair railing. Another was hewing beams with an electric planer. Another was taped in a closet, pumping and spraying paint. Another was watching the paint. It sounded like the dentist’s office from hell. I thought we were like a really big family, each doing our own crazy thing and each making our own big mess. The living room floor is covered in wood shavings. Gerbils anyone?

Just walked upstairs to find Kadin sitting at the table with a scrap of shim wood and a steak knife, sawing away. When asked what he was up to, he simply said: “I am making my own circle of dust.” Of course.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


There has been a new conflagration in the neighborhood between three contentious families. I don't know if it is something in the soil or something about the personal chemistry of these three families, but they live in perhaps the most disputed triangle of our development. It seems disputes have raged for decades and I am involved in the most recent because I have volunteered to be on the neighborhood's Architectural Review Committee.

The Architectural Review Committee is a bureaucratic thing that makes sure all external changes to houses in the neighborhood conform to the "Covenants and Guidelines," the documents set up to maintain a uniform appearance in the neighborhood.

I realized that all sounds hegemonic and elitist, and in many ways it is, but it also has some really positive side effects. And you could say that the process, though often a hassle, generally works. On the negative side, it limits people from doing whatever they want; it forces people to notify neighbors of exterior changes; and it forces people to jump through a few hoops in order to make any changes. On the positive side, it forces people to be "neighborly," to talk to their neighbors; it offers a way to moderate disputes; it generally gets people to rethink doing whacko things with their house that they might regret; and it has kept property values high.

The current case involves a family in a one-story house that wants to add a second story. About half-a-dozen other houses will be affected, but it is the two families in the two looming two-story houses behind them that are the most vociferous in their concerns and have gotten the lawyers involved.

The strategy of the committee is to ask the family wanting to "pop their top" to put up markers where the new corners of their house will be. In the past, that job alone has gotten people to reconsider any additions. Not so in this case. So the next step, once the markers were up, was to tour the affected houses and ascertain what the real impact would be.

This process usually results in some compromises and a happy conclusion for all. This time, because of the disputes that have gone back and forth between these three families, chances for that are low. Due both to the situation and the personalities involved, I feel a lawsuit is inevitable.

But still, I enjoyed our tour of the affected houses. We visited six houses and saw what impact the addition would have on each house. The two looming houses behind are really quite spectacular. I didn't want to go home at the end.

One of the houses we visited, less spectacular, less affected, is owned by a tiny, sweet, older couple. They did not participate in the meetings or the tour, but their son, a lawyer representing them, did. When we got to their house, their son said it was not a good day to go in, that his mother was not doing well. I gathered she sufferers from Alzheimer’s and some days she is more with it than others. But as we assembled to see the views from their front porch, we were invited in and she seemed to be having a good day after all.

The house was immaculate. That was the first thing that struck me. I am not old or infirm, but my house would never look that good. The woman was welcoming, but a bit confused. "What is this? Who are these people? What is going on?" she asked repeatedly as we thanked her and smiled on our way in. Her husband and son gently explained that there was a proposed change to the roofline across the street.

I doubt this was the first time she had heard the news, but it all seemed new to her again. "An addition? There? Across the street?" Someone asked her what she thought of the idea. She was not shy in her response. Despite the fact that she was confused and surrounded by strangers, she loudly and clearly said. "No, I don't want there to be a roof there. I think it is a terrible idea. I don't want that at all." No confusion there. She came through loud and clear on a cloudy and contentious day.

The dispute continues, with no compromise in sight. The strong old woman is but a minor part of it. But I enjoyed her ease at expressing her opinion. I think that is a gift that comes with age. You no longer have to be diplomatic. You no longer feel such a need to compromise. You know your opinion and you can voice it clearly. I can't wait.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


This is up there in the category of "least likely titles for a post in my blog," but no joke, it is about Madonna. A couple weeks ago I did two NIA classes where the teacher played all Madonna tunes. More recent Madonna stuff, not from the Like a Virgin and Material Girl era. I would not have guessed it was Madonna. The songs had the ubiquitous dance beat typical of her songs, but also chanting and world beats that gave it an Indian or African feel.

Now I don't follow Madonna and know very little about what she has been up to for the past twenty years. I know she is older now and married (how many times?), living in England, I think, and has kids. I had heard that she was into Jewish mysticism and had written some children's books. I had actually seen and bought three of her children's books at the local dollar store. She is a good storyteller and the books gave me some more insight into her creativity.

She is obviously a very talented, creative person, even if you may not have her same taste. After the first NIA class, I was surprised to learn that the music, which I thought was a compilation of world music, was all by the same artist and that that artist was Madonna. When the same music was used the next day, I thought I'd listen more carefully to see if I could glean more about what makes her tick these days, what inspires her creativity.

It was interesting. It occurred to me that a lot of the appeal of Madonna is that she dares to voice people's deepest wishes. I enjoyed exercising to her music and I was amazed at her skill at articulating dreams. The lyrics don't necessarily tell a story or make a lot of sense (to me) but there are impelling repeated words and phrases such as "soar,” “butterfly," and "remember who you are." I can't recall them all, but they gave a real impression of empowerment and self-determination with a little bit of mysticism thrown in.

I never was a big fan of Madonna, but my respect for her and her ability to invent and reinvent herself has grown. Good exercise music. Good transformation music. Good messages. I bet she is a really great mother.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The big bus adventure

The kids had the day off school and the kitchen had a Christo number done on it: wrapped from head to toe in tape and plastic. Men were walking around the house on stilts, painting mud on the walls and turning it into a dusty mess.

We had to flee so we embarked on a great bus adventure. We took the Skip, Jump, and the Hop—wrong order but works for us—as the busses in Boulder are optimistically named. Fun to launch from a Jump Stop for a change.

We dropped Kadin off at a birthday party for lunch enroute and Rees and I brought burritos to Greg's office. We reconnected, then the kids and I set off to explore the Engineering building we had enjoyed during invention day.

We spent quite a lot of time there exploring and playing with the exhibits. After, on our way to the fun-to-say Hop Stop, we ended up playing with snow in a courtyard and I noticed a place called The Discovery Center. I saw a big airplane engine in the window and, peering through, I spied what looked like an interesting gift shop inside. Curious, we found the door and went to the intruiging glass case. It turned out to be a display of all kinds of fun creations and puzzles by engineering students. There were three dimensional mazes, pop-up cards, robot-type creatures, wheels, gears, and more fascinating objects. As we were looking at them through the glass, a man came by and invited us in.

Inside was a lab with two graduate students creating colorful textile pieces. Some were sewing kits that taught kids about circuit design, another demonstrated a flashing bracelet that modeled a noble gas (not sure I understood that, but Rees, er Sonic, wants one in a big way now). Not only that, but the room contained IT: the printer that works in three dimensions. In the adjacent room, surrounded by fun toys, was a laser cutter that could make all kinds of other shapes and creations. The man who had invited us in was Michael Eisenberg, the professor who runs the lab. What a fun place! I am now inspired to look into this program some more. I will have to ask what kind of background his students have and what kinds of projects he is working on.

That was the highlight of the day for me. Everything I loved about invention day and more. Then we hopped on the Hop, transfered to the Skip, and were home by evening. In time to go out to eat. We wouldn't eat at home again for another 5 days.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Names— why l will be sainted

A couple of kids that Rees knows well have changed their names. I have been thinking about this and wondering how it feels to have a child who doesn't like the name you chose for them. I decided I wanted to take such a desire seriously, but not take it personally. There was a time in England when Rees wanted to be called Michael, and with three Reeses (Rees, Rhys, and Rhys) in his class, who could blame him? The only problem with Michael, in my opinion, is that so many people have it. But Michael is a serious, respectable name.

Rees has always had strong opinions and genearally sticks with his decisions. If the topic came up again, I told myself, I would be accepting and open. The topic came up and Rees said he wanted to change his name. "Okay," I said, "What do you want to be called?" And that's when he answered: "Sonic."

What? Sonic? Is that a name? I thought it was an adjective. If I react or refuse, he'll want it all the more. Sonic it is. But how can I call him that with a straight face?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Back injury—a new aproach

Luckily, this is all in the past,* but I did it again, tweaked my back. I had been feeling very strong and flexible until that one tiny moment when I bent over to pick up a case of water and didn't bend my knees. Twing! Oops!

I am always amazed how one second can result in a long recovery time. In the past (not that this is common, but it has happened a couple of times), I would hobble around whining and feeling sorry for myself, stoically carrying on. This time was the first time I have tweaked my back and not had a toddler to deal with as well. I have learned that the worst thing to do is sit. Standing is fine, walking is fine, lying down is fine. Getting in and out of the car is the worst.

The day after the twing, I thought I was taking it easy by driving places. Not so. It was worse by evening. The next day I walked everywhere, lay down whenever I could, and basically tried to find ways to nurture and care for my body without whining or feeling sorry for myself. It was a nice change, and, for a change, I was able to take some time for myself.

Bottom line? It worked. Pretty much all better now. Took a couple of weeks before I felt I could do everything I wanted, but it was a much more pleasant recovery period. No more soldiering on for me.

*2/6/06 Spoke too soon! Tweaked again! Either I was getting cocky and brazen or it's Kadin's determination to step on too many cracks…

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Subcontractor personalities

I am going to go off on some gross generalizations and stereotypes based on very small samples, but I find the personalities of the different subcontractor crews so interesting. I have already written about how generally pleasant and easy-to-talk to the general contractor and the main carpentry crew are. Don't know if it is typical, but their motto seems to be, "We will do whatever you want; our goal is to make you happy." That is a treat. The concrete cutters, one of the first subcontractor crews, were very different. They were large and burly, displayed no emotion, and I can't remember even a word spoken out of their mouths.

The concrete pouring crew was similarly stoic. They looked thin and wiry and had that real hardened, western kind of look like the Marlborough man. No hint of expression or emotion, just get the job done. You wouldn't even think of joking around with these guys.

The HVAC (Heating Vents and Air Conditioning? Something like that) guys were older and very friendly, but a bit comical in their stoicism. They would forget things and make mistakes, but worked hard and thoroughly without complaint. Their names were Tom and Jerry and they were soon dubbed "the Tom and Jerry show." They were not unpleasant to have around, but a bit like a cartoon with disasters and near-disasters abounding.

Then there were the electricians. They were talkative, and able to joke, but big whiners and complainers. They needed a session with Greg's cousin Marcy, so she could help them find their true path. They were clearly not happy and felt burdened by every job and request. Lots of sighing a swearing and general discontent filled the house when they were here. And it was COLD.

The roofers were, like the concrete guys, almost subhuman. They would not make eye contact and did not seem able to communicate in any way. If they spoke English, they did not let on. They suffered through snow and rain and wind storms. I felt that just about every night the wind blew off all the work they had done the night before. But they just kept at it until it was finally done.

Next came the insulators. The foam insulation guys were just a quick, smart, two-man team, one of whom owned the business. The fiberglass guys were a crew, again very efficient, not talkative. They took that icky batting and stoically stuffed it in every last crack, and topped it with plastic so that it looked like our walls were wearing a puffy pink coat.

The inspector was a nice but humorless fellow. No luck getting him to crack a smile. Sigh. But we passed.

The drywall guys have several different crews. There are the ones who come to drop off the drywall and load the requisite number of sheets in each room. There were just two or three of them and they spoke a little English then went about their work.

The next day came the crew to put up the drywall. They didn't speak much English either, and looked a little red-eyed, but they were a surprisingly lively bunch, laughing and joking in Spanish and listening to music. They brought a toaster oven for lunch on-site. And though we couldn't communicate, they seemed like real people with real emotions and real appetites.

After them came the taping and filling crew. Again, they didn't speak much English, but it was possible to communicate with them and, despite their rough job conditions, they seemed human and emotive. They are the ones who wrapped up everything in the kitchen and sanded the walls, making the house seem like the inside of a snow globe. Yuk!

The stone masons out front, though again not speaking English, have had the best lunches yet of any crew. They bring a small round griddle and toast fresh corn tortillas on them. Yum! They get to be outside in relatively pleasant conditions and seem to really enjoy and take pride in their work.

The painter is here and he loves his music (the quality of music goes up dramatically when he is around). He is very particular and loves to talk, tell stories, and offer his opinion about colors. An artist at heart. He reminds me of the painter character on Murphy Brown. He would fit right in if he moved in. It feels like he lives here already.

The flooring guy comes next week. He works alone (because he has to due to his exacting personality, says our GC). And the stone guys who will do the fireplace surround are said to be stone-like Russians. Can’t wait to see that. The indoor conditions have improved dramatically with the departure of the drywallers (and thanks to the insulators).

And so it goes, our home is not our own. Sometimes if feels like the world in miniature with different culture clashes and turf battles. Each type of work attracts and/or makes it own personality type. Each crew specializes in what they do and each has disdain for at least one other type of subcontractor. Roofers are not generally liked and the painter hates drywallers because he gets the job of cleaning up after them. Drywallers get irritated with the work of the framers. Electricians whine and moan about the framers and the architects/lighting designers, and so on.

One day I came home, long after the roof was supposed to be done, and I saw someone up there. It turned out to be one of the carpenters.

“Oh,” I said, “I thought you were a roofer.”

“Don’t call me a roofer,” came the offended reply.

Lesson learned.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Kadin's 5—or—How to turn a hazard into an asset

This blog has barely made into the New Year and the month is almost over. I feel about 30 days behind and, what do you know? I AM about 30 days behind. The house has entered a new state of upheaval, I tweaked my back (again), Kadin had a birthday (party) and Rees has decided to change his name (again).

More on all of those in future posts. But first, Kadin's party, or "How to turn a hazard into an asset."

I took a risk and scheduled Kadin's party for Jan 8, the Sunday before his real birthday on Monday. Who knew what condition the house would be in? Who knew what the weather would be like? He picked the theme dinosaurs (after flirting with superheros and pirates) and wanted to have a party, but, being an introvert, didn't want to invite anyone. We finally worked that out and in the end 5 guests (the tradition being to invite as many as you are old) did indeed come.

Next obstacle was location. Being stubborn, I decided to just make do and have it at the house, another tradition. At the house or bust. On the negative side, there was no room in the now kitchen/dining room/office combo, there was a big pit and a big pile of dirt out front, and there was debris (nails, roof shingles, splintered boards) everywhere due to the high winds we've had this winter. On the positive side, the electricians had finished, the first layer of insulation was in, the roof was on (completed the Saturday before the party), and we had lots of unoccupied, but dusty, indoor space that the kids could not trash in any way.

The plan: a dino hunt and dig. We had the tools: paint brushes from the painter, lots of 5-gal buckets from the workers, and some cheap sandbox shovels and rakes. We had the treasures: I bulk ordered some plastic dino skeletons, way too many small plastic dinos, and found a bag of glass pebbles with fish/trilobyte impressions on them at the Dollar Store. The week before the party I made dinosaur eggs by embedding the small plastic dinos in plaster of paris, using old hollow easter eggs for moulds.

We made each guest a "dig" by burying the treasures in sand in a bucket. We still didn't know if we should try to do it inside or out. It was a pretty nice morning. Greg made little cards for each guest with pictures of three hiding places (a tire swing, a wagon, a hose pot). And wouldn't you know it? A half-hour before the party, just as we were setting up outside, the wind started gusting and it started snowing. Typical.

The guests began to arrive. They dressed up with dinosaur tails and had some of the snacks. We gave them each an empty bucket and explained the hunt. We were going on a dig, but we needed to find our tools first. At the location of each picture, there were hidden tools and each person had to find three tools all together. On their way to the hiding places, they could look for and pick up "treasures," of nails, screws, roof shingles, scraps of metal, etc. At the end they could turn in each "treasure" for a penny.

Yes, it was cold, but at least the kids were running around outside, and at least they were looking for nails instead of stepping on them.

We moved the digs inside. For Rees' 5th birthday, outside, in September, with all boys, there was no problem encouraging the guests to smash open the dinosaur eggs with hammers. They could have done that all day. But these kids, for whatever reason (younger? colder? girls?) were not so keen on smashing with hammers. But with Greg and I and Rees and the helpful 9-year-old guest, there was plenty of smashing. The kids put their tools and the finds from their digs in their buckets. Later we put these all in party bags.

Then it was wash hands and cake and presents. I am happy to report that no one was injured and most of the kids opted to keep their pennies AND their "treasures" that they collected. Don't know what their parents thought when they opened party bags with nails and shards of asphalt roof shingles, but the place was a little cleaner as a result.

Kadin had a good time too. Now, I need to find a way to turn a stubborn 5-year-old into an asset…

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Transient are all conditioned things

Here is my own New Year's response to my previous post:

In the winter, I like to take the time to reflect, look inward, and plan for the future. Someone once told me of the “stop, start, continue” model where you evaluate what you want to stop, start, or continue, and the New Year is a time that I like to think along these lines. The big thing I have been thinking about of late is change. I realize just how much change is going on, how it will never stop, and how I'd better get used to it!

I have already written about how I am now into embracing any new exercise fad that comes along and enjoying short-lived toys. That is a revolutionary approach to life for me. I have always been one to seek permanence or classics, but now I reflect on that and ask myself, “why?”

I think about the things that bother me these days and usually they are things that change too quickly. I don’t feel that I have time to find my feet and get organized before everything has changed again. I know with the kids, change comes all too quickly. I get things all set up the way I like them, in a way that is appropriate for their age and activities, and before you know it, before I am used to it, they are off into a whole new phase again. Whoosh!

I was reading a book by Buddhist teacher Sylvia Boorstein (a Christmas present from Greg from a year ago) called It's Easier Than You Think. It is a very down-to-earth, practical, funny book that talks about (among other things) how there will always be pain, but there doesn’t have to be suffering. Pain we don’t have control over, but suffering we do. I realized that for me, change is painful, yes, but I don’t have to suffer. I can just let it go and decide to ride the waves of change. The title of this post—transient are all conditioned things—is a quote from the book. I don’t understand it, but I like it.

When I think about the previous post on the Right Way that I wrote last March, I realize that this is one of the reasons I suffer when things change. I naturally seek a more permanent, universal Right Way, one that doesn’t, or shouldn’t, change. I think I have found IT, then it moves, and then I suffer irritation and annoyance. It is good to know that is where my irritation comes from. Now I try to just see that as the pattern for me, think of the beauty of transience, and move on. I am hoping this will keep me younger.

So my new year’s resolution is to be more open to change, to be flexible, to enjoy and notice my desire for a Right Way, to enjoy the process of working toward a smooth and efficient life, but to accept change as the natural state of things. It’s the journey, not the destination, and all that.

I remember my grandmother, a very thoughtful, adaptable, forward thinking, and open-minded woman who had seen a lot of change, expressing her frustration on this subject. “I am tired of change,” she said when she was in her late eighties, ”I have changed my whole life, and now I'm tired of it.” I can completely understand where she was coming from and I am less than half her age! I loved her, respected her, learned a lot from her, and would be blessed to be as energetic, interesting, and dynamic as she was at her age, but I think I will have to give change a little more leeway if I’m going to succeed. I am too young to stop changing now!

The Right Way

Can’t believe I haven’t posted for almost two weeks! Before I start talking about the New Year and my thoughts, I want to post something I wrote nearly a year ago when I started this blog:

There was one thing on my father’s Morning Edition interview that struck me that I didn’t really consciously process at the time, but the more I think about it, the more important I see that it is to his life, my mother’s life, and my life. The interviewer said that one thing that made my father stand out as a computer programmer was his belief that there is a best way, a right way.

I see now that this belief is very deeply ingrained in my soul. And it’s not about people or religion or cultures at all, but something more quantifiable, more evidence based: how to do things. (I think believing there is a best way can lead to very negative things like nationalism or prejudice, but that isn’t what it means for me at all. George Bush would be an example of someone who has this view. But I would like to think that my best way and right way is more in the realm of evidence-based practices---things that can be measured.) For me the “best way” is about the most measurably efficient, simple, or parsimonious way to do something. That is beautiful. This is an aesthetic my parents share that they have passed down to me. While this belief/aesthetic has been a great motivator for me, it has also gotten me into trouble. I don’t think it is necessarily the best thing or the right thing to have such a belief, but I do have it, so it is perhaps the best way for me. It is interesting to think about how the life of a person who is constantly seeking a best way or a right way to do something is affected.

First, you have to believe that there IS a best way. If everything were equal, why would you bother? And I find I often believe there is A BEST WAY and seek to find IT. Over time I have come to understand that there are different best ways for different people. For me, the best way is the most efficient, simplest, and most parsimonious way. I see now that I am ruled by these criteria for almost everything.

This ideal of a best way often leads me to a position that seems inflexible (though I would like to think that, presented with a measurably better way, I would be instantly flexible) and hampers my ability to finesse a situation. I am not interested in doing something any old way, I want to do it the best way.

It also inhibits a certain romantic view of the world. I remember once asking someone why she walked back to work the way she did if it was longer. “I like to smell the flowers,” she replied. Well, that just would not have occurred to me.

This is perhaps why I nearly go into convulsions if Greg is driving and takes a wrong turn. It’s not like it really matters that much in the long run, he’ll get us there, but it has upset my inner core. I don’t just want to get there; I want to get there the best way. I had a friend in high school that told another friend to stop evaluating my suggestions and just do what I said because, “Jenny is always right.” Well, I was not and am not always right, but I want to be! And I realize that many of the conflicts I have with Greg come from me thinking I know the best way and him thinking that I have rejected his idea because it was his. I argue that it is not a his-idea vs. my-idea kind of thing, but a working-together-to-find-the-best-way kind of thing (albeit using my criteria of the best way!). Sometimes I wish he would take the attitude of my friend from high school. But then I can think of times where we were working together, loading a moving van, for example, and I would be paralyzed by evaluating what was the best way to do it and he would just keep working and carrying and get more done in the end.

The biggest conflict this belief has had in my life was in graduate school. I was in the humanities (not the sciences where there is more of a belief in the quantifiable best way or right way) and the fashion was to “recomplicate” what had been done before. Previous scholars has sought to simplify and define in a way that was “hegemonic and violent” and their scholarship had to be overthrown by a new, dynamic “unreadability." My encountering such a philosophy was like taking my square head and banging it into a round hole. It was so contrary to the way I naturally thought. I learned a lot, but did not thrive in this environment.

I hope I have become a lot more tolerant and accepting over the years, but that includes accepting who I am and the way I naturally think. I realize that this isn’t the best way or the right way and certainly not the only way, but it’s a way I can’t escape.