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.