Monday, September 24, 2007

And the winner is...

One of the new things Rees gets to do at school in 5th grade (in addition to being the top of the heap, having a part in the school musical, and getting free ski passes) is instrumental music. Music teachers come into the classroom and demonstrate instruments. The kids pick their favorites, try them out, then can have "free" group lessons at school.

Rees came home very excited after the demonstrations. I wasn't sure he would even be interested, though he does like piano. But I was curious, if he was interested, what instrument he'd be drawn to. He doesn’t seem like the marching-band type and I wasn't sure he'd be into a string instrument, their too fussy, too temperamental. I dreaded a child who would be into the bass or tuba or something unwieldy. So I was interested when he told me that the instruments that most captured his imagination were the clarinet and the French horn. He said he liked the way they both looked and thought they made beautiful sounds.

Not my decision, but I was secretly thrilled about the clarinet. They are easy to carry, versatile, practical-seeming instruments. I thought the thin black silhouette would suit him and he would gain transferable skills. So that's what we'd had all these years: a clarinet player. It all made sense.

Now the French horn is a beautiful instrument, to be sure, and I've always liked it, but it seems a little more specialized and obscure. It is considered one of the most difficult instruments to play and I always remember French horn players as the ones most likely to blow it big. Obscurity, frustration, difficulty: these things do not suit Rees.

The day they got to try the instruments at school, he came home both disappointed and excited. For some reason he was unable to make a sound on the clarinet mouthpiece, but on the trumpet mouthpiece he was already a pro. A form was sent home saying he could do clarinet "with work," but would be great on the trumpet, and could do French horn with private lessons. Hmmmm.

So Rees (and my) dreams of clarinet evaporate, he's aiming for the French horn.

I don't know why, but this idea stayed in my thoughts a long time. French horn? I couldn't see him toiling away, diligently practicing. He’s just not that structured of a guy. I didn't want him to play a "dead end" instrument. On the other hand, I could see him enjoying being unique, one of the few French horn players rather than one of dozens of clarinetists. What was it about the French horn that was so hard? If it proved too challenging, could he switch? Precision, intonation, these are not Rees' strong points. But in the end, any amount of playing a new instrument is good, develops new parts of the brain. How else to know if an instrument is for you other than to give it a try? Despite him hearing about these challenges, the additional private lessons, and even being told they would have a place for only one French horn, he had his heart set on it. And in the end, it has to come from him.

So yesterday [now three weeks ago], we rented a French horn (the rental a 10th birthday gift from his grandfather). He has barely stopped playing it since. And, I have to say, I am impressed. I had no idea what beginning French horn would sound like, and to be honest, it does not sound too different from those long plastic horns they blow at football games, but he plays with gusto. If it were me, I would sit down and want to know how to do a scale. I would be methodical, systematic, timid, and bored. Not Rees. He sits down and feels it. He tries different things, experiments, repeats. This morning, he had four different things he would play: "jazz," "blues," "elephant," and "reveille." We were woken up to "reveille." It's exciting to see him so enthusiastic. A sound only a parent could love to be sure. But when his friend showed up with his new saxophone, we counted our blessings.

Time will tell whether Rees is in this for the short term on the long haul, but in my new quest to embrace the ephemeral, it doesn't matter. French horn is not necessarily "his instrument" or the one he'll play for life. But it is the one he is enjoying right now and going with. Whatever the future brings, it is a great experience.

One week later: He came home from school telling me about the breathing in instrumental class and how it makes him feel happy. They practice breathing out for longer than they breathe in, taking really deep breaths, holding their breath, etc. As a violist, I never got to do that! As an adult, I know how important breath is, how it can change your energy and your mood, how good oxygen is. I think that is exactly what he needs to be exploring right now. Something he can take with him for life: breathing.

Three weeks later: He is still going strong. Had one disappointing day at class—something frustrating happened, that made him feel he couldn’t play, and he wouldn’t say what—but luckily that was immediately followed by his private lesson. His private teacher, a student at CU, is really great with him and he is always thrilled and excited after his lessons with her. So the ride continues with it's ups and downs…. Breathe, Jen, breathe….

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

From the Does Not Inspire Confidence department

A message on our answering machine:

"This is George with Qwest [the phone company]. This message is for Brandon. I was just calling to let him know that we ended up issuing a credit of $37.91 towards the activation fee that was charged in error to your guys' account. Sorry it took so long to get back to you but the system finally got up today. So hopefully that's okay and we got that credit in for you Brandon. Hope you have a good day. Goodbye."

So the phone company dials a wrong number to leave a message apologizing for an error. Not a good sign. Sorry Brandon.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Wave

There is a really great new toy out there and all the fourth-grade boys in Rees’ class are doing it. It is called the Wave and is basically a skateboard, but an unusual one. First difference is that it only has two wheels. Second difference is that the wheels are not fixed, but pivot or spin 360 degrees, and that’s not all, the board itself has two halves and it can twist in the middle. The upshot is that instead of having to push yourself with your foot on the ground, you can ride the Wave and propel yourself with a wiggling motion that gives you momentum. You never have to touch the ground. It takes some balance and there is a learning curve, but I am impressed that most of these nine- and ten-year-old boys have mastered it.

They love it and it seems so good for them and so healthy. It looks so fun, I thought I’d like to master it myself. Why touch the ground when you don't have to? So one night after dinner, I found myself giving it a try. I started by using Rees as my balance point. That worked okay, but he soon tired of this, so I replaced him with a walking stick. Then, as I got my balance, I no longer needed the stick. I got to the point where I could start off and ride without falling, but didn’t quite yet get that wiggling, propelling motion. I was making great progress and feeling pretty confident when I jumped on and the board slipped out from under me and I fell back. That was when I suddenly morphed into this hard, heavy, brittle adult. I did not bend like the grasses but broke like the ancient oak.

I couldn’t get up right away and felt pain in both wrists and my butt. Left wrist felt especially bad where it had taken much of the impact from the butt. Butt was grateful, but wrist was not bouncing back like I felt it should. Shouldn’t I be able to get up by now? After a bit, I was able to roll onto my front and use my right arm to help myself up. In retrospect, wrist guards seemed like a good idea. Thank goodness I didn’t hit my elbow. Elbow guards a must.

I was wiped out. I was shaking. It was Friday night and the question loomed, what should I do? The first answer was do a little research, go to bed, and see how I felt in the morning. I put together a makeshift splint and read up on broken bones. I didn’t want to repeat the bill from the ER and Kadin’s broken arm. Read that the most important thing is to immobilize the site. Done. Next was to ensure it was not out of alignment. Didn’t seem to be. Then, apparently, there was no problem waiting a few days, it was not an emergency. So, I’d wait ‘til Monday and see how I felt then.

I fear unnecessary medical intervention so for minor or chronic things, tend to try gentler approaches. Still, I had always said, for major trauma, like broken bones, I was glad the doctors were there. Now I wasn’t so sure. I didn’t want a doctor anywhere near my arm, I didn’t want xrays, and I really didn’t want the bills. A cast suddenly seemed a barbaric treatment. It felt like it would be wrong. So if not at broken limbs, where did I now draw the line? Maybe if the bone had been poking out of the skin? Maybe. (I think for severed limbs, though, I would definitely see an MD, but I hope I’ll never find out.)

I did go and buy some wrist and elbow guards and used the wrist guard as a brace. I called my acupuncturist because I had to change an upcoming appointment, and she encouraged me to come in and said she could help with the pain. She had previously given me these medicated bandages that I had never used, so I did now and they felt great. I made an appointment with her for Monday.

Monday I was still in a lot of pain. Appointment went great—$60, about a tenth of the ER bill—but I also made an appointment for Wednesday with my chiropractor. Tuesday, still not much improvement and a physical therapist friend recommended the cost-effective idea of making an appointment with a Physician’s Assistant at her clinic where they could also do x-rays. I called and found out that I could get an appointment and x-rays for about $150 total, depending. So I made an appointment there for Thursday.

Chiropractor took my very tender wrist, felt all around, massaged it, adjusted it—all without any pain—and declared that if it was broken, it was all in alignment and would heal fine. I was so impressed she could do that without hurting me. She confirmed my skepticism about casts and told me about (brutal!) studies where they break rabbit’s legs and cast some and leave others to heal on their own. The un-casted legs actually heal better and faster and the thought is that something about using the surrounding muscles helps the bone fibers to line up and heal better.

In the end, I was able to cancel the physician appointment for the next day. I got off with paying less than $200 and only going to appointments that made me feel good and cared for, not brutalized (I couldn't do anything else that week anyway). It took a good six weeks before I felt I could try to do everything I had done before with my arm, and today, about eight weeks later, I still feel some stiffness in my wrist and twisting is slightly painful, but by stretching it, using it, and massaging it, I think I will heal completely.

And I have been back on the Wave, for one brief afternoon, well protected with pads and guards. There is some ground to make up but I hope to report that I have mastered the Wave soon (though I think, given my advanced age, it is going to take quite a bit of effort and maybe even a restructuring of my brain). Wish me luck!

Oxford, a year ago last June...

The first update: last year's summer trip to England and Norway.


I’m sitting at the Rose Hill Oval, having stupidly bought a day pass for myself and the kids, forgetting that there are two bus companies in Oxford and a pass is only good on one. Just missed the number 3 bus so have to wait 20 minutes (it's Sunday) for the next one. It's all coming back so slowly.

Kadin turns out to be a very excited traveler and had a great time with the moving sidewalks at the airport. He was determined to figure out everything himself.

We arrived Friday and felt pretty good. At least I am speaking for myself. It was HOT! Okay, only in the 70s with clear, clear blue sky, but the humidity made clothes feel warmer. And I just couldn't believe that people were choosing to sit in the sun. Just as I couldn't believe when we first moved to Colorado that people would actually close their curtains to the sun. We walked around the city centre and ended up at the new Castle development. It was nice and spacious and they had outdoor seating at the child-friendly Pizza Express. When I had just about finished with my salad, Kadin remembered that he had left his bag (a small thing he was given on the airplane) at Boswell's toy store. I volunteered to go back to get it. Traipsed across town to find they had closed shortly after we left and would open the next day at 9:05am. 9:05? Thought I would try again then.

Went back to the flat and with some encouragement and cajoling, all fell asleep shortly after the 9 o'clock chimes of Tom Tower. I slept intermittently until about 8:30 the next morning. There was a party next door. At one point, it was getting light out and I heard lots of people talking and moving about. I assumed it was morning and people were off to work. Then I remembered it was Saturday and when I checked the clock, it was only 3:30am. So, it would seem this was not the morning commotion, but the continuing commotion from the night before. By "real" morning, Boulder's night, we were all sound asleep. I did wake about 8:30 and walked up to Boswells, easily found the bag, and then noticed that the bank would be open in about half-an-hour so thought I'd walk around a bit until then. It was novel moving about Oxford by myself. I didn't have any small bodies to keep track of or specific errands to attend to. It felt so freeing. Nice and early in the morning, too, less crowded. When the bank opened, the guy at the bank was even nice and chatty and gave me lots of good, unhurried information. I then bought two lattés and headed back to the apartment.

By 11am everyone else was up and about and we got to the Trefethen's for lunch, though pretty late in the end---bought flowers, got a Taxi, etc.

It was so great to visit with them. Unfortunately we missed Jacob, but they have very full lives! We walked down to the park by Rainbow bridge and had a picnic by the Cherwell river. Luckily, Nick was also interested in watching the World Cup soccer game, so we saw the first half of the England game at their house before Ann drove us to our next appointment at Hinksey park to meet Rees' old friend Daniel. We went to the outdoor swimming pool in our old neighborhood, the nearby playground, and the little store next to our house. Despite wearing wet suits and the weather being about as warm and clear as it ever gets, the kids got very cold at the pool! Wow, they are now weather wimps! Rees, Daniel, and Kadin even got to ride the little yellow paddle boats that they were too young to go in when we lived here. England won the game "one nil" as expected and everyone was in a festive mood. The pool probably would have been more crowded had there not been a game.

We explored some more on the way home and, as we were all very tired, opted to eat in rather than risk a temper tantrum by one of the kids at the Head of the River. I went out and got some provisions, and we collapsed into bed again after a full day of exercise and sun. Veggie samosas very popular.

Greg said he remembered the feeling of almost constant embarrassment he had while we lived in England, the feeling that you are almost always doing something wrong. I remembered overwhelming feelings of being tied down. When I was out walking around by myself it just was so novel and something I almost never did when we lived here. And I don't remember ever thinking that people in Oxford dressed particularly interestingly or flatteringly, and maybe it was the unusually warm weather, but I was really struck by how appallingly people dressed. I don't know if people in Oxford are just more comfortable with their bodies and so less self-conscious or if they just don't realize how bad they look! Fit bodies that were well taken care of were few and far between. Tortured and tacky seemed the rule.

Sunday, Rees went to see William in the morning. I chatted with Mark in the garden. It was very nice and I started remembering some of the gentle pleasures of the English garden. One of Kadin's big memories, besides the shark in the house, is going to the Sainsbury's with Grandpa. So Kadin and I headed out and got on the number 3 bus to the Rose Hill Oval. I felt foreign and empowered to ask the driver directions to the walking bridge over the ring road. He knew all the back paths and we found it with no problem. We bought water, marmite (two large jars, at a cost of 4 pounds each), apricots, apples, and toilet paper. I even asked a thug on the way back if the bus stopped on Speedwell street. I liked being able to be foreign and anonymous.

We got back on the bus to Temple Cowley after lunch in the flat. Met up with Ceri, Rebecca, Alex, and Theo (new!) at the pool. Rees went in the men's changing room. When I got out of the women's changing room to the pool, Rebecca said Rees couldn't go in. Hmmm. Yes he could. Then I found out the story was that Rees and Kadin were not allowed to swim in their wet suits as it "restricted movement" and was "against policy." I argued with the guy for a while: it's a shallow pool, I'll be with them, wet suits are designed for swimming, we swam at Hinksey all the previous day, etc. Finally asked to speak to the manager. He appeared and basically said, "I have no problem with it." And we were able to swim after all. Sigh.

Visited with Ceri et al. at her house. House is the same and she is as orderly as ever, cutting up fruit for the kids, pouring them all juice, and they all wash hands, sit down to eat politely, and get up when they are finished. With a fourth kid on the way this is a good thing.

I called Annie and she was suffering a migrane. Wasn't sure she wanted me to come, but she did, so called Greg and said we'd meet him there. Then, since I had bought a day pass for Stagecoach, I thought I couldn't take a bus to Annie's so we decided to walk. Also to kill time to give Annie some more peace. Turns out the number 16 bus did in fact run and was now changed to Stagecoach, but runs only once an hour. Annie told me a bit of the story: It is the only bus to cross the Donnington Bridge and there are older people who have lived in the area all their lives who rely on the bus. And, since the bus ran only once every half-an-hour, they would get to know each other standing at the bus stop. Anyway, the 16 bus was abolished and, Annie said, despite these people who relied on it and though they could have organized, they weren't able to. She said she should make a movie about it. In the end, the 16 bus was reinstated under the Stagecoach line but only runs once an hour.

Anyway, we found a stop, but found we had just missed the bus by about 3 minutes. Oh well, walking was nice, and just at the end, when some new fences looked like they would block our way, we found a hole and got through. Hard to keep back the tide of human pedestrians.

Annie's house was nice as always and she was alone for the moment, the kids having gone out to the Thames with George and neighbors. Things perhaps a bit more cluttered and crowded than before. A bit chaotic when the kids arrive. Elsa was glowing a told a great story about swimming in the Thames and how Oliver (neighbor) had swum out to get an old bottle for her. Muddy, happy, and active. Ned (new!) took a bath in ketchup, the kids indulged in fish fingers and Asian pasta. Kadin had two bowls of pasta. As George later said, "Lots of veggies went down their little gullets." It was crowded and cluttered and happy.

Walking home along the Thames path on a beautiful evening should have been relaxing, but we forgot about the bicycles and staying to the left. So slightly nerve wracking, but only slightly. I was so pleased that Kadin was walking. What freedom!

Ceri had told me there was an LLL toddler meeting on Wednesday morning. Jayne is still a leader, Ceri is a leader in the evenings, and Kathryn is too, four kids and all! And Cathé Heron, the former leader from Ox, whose had another baby is now leading again. The best thing I got the whole time I was in Oxford was the LLL brochure that Jayne had made. It was so gratifying to see. I was especially touched that they still have a summer picnic gathering as well. I had so many nightmares with those picnics, the timing for me always seemed wrong (bad weather, kid sick, me sick, etc.). So it was nice to see that people enjoyed and appreciated them in the end! The group is thriving with meetings almost every week. Wow! It was so gratifying to have a piece of paper that showed something concrete from my years in Oxford. I realize how little I feel I accomplish at any time.

Rees wanted to visit Grandpont Nursery. So on Monday morning we did. I got all teary eyed when we walked in. It was such a nice place! I was so sorry Kadin didn't get to go there. Kadin still says he hated his preschool. Such a different environment! At Grandpont they never raise their voices and rarely correct the children. The children just seem to know how to behave. Very skilled teachers. The boys sat and played for a long time with mobilo and I reminisced about people who were there.

Monday I was to have lunch with Kerry. We planned to meet at Edamamé, the Japanese restaurant on Holywell. Could not ditch the kids as Mikael was down from Scotland to work with Greg. So Greg went to his meeting at Starbucks, and the kids and I set out across Christ Church meadow, through to Magpie Lane, into Radcliffe square and through the narrow passage to the Turf tavern and the Bath House Hotel that emerged on Holywell.

Edamamé was closed on Mondays, but there was a new restaurant in the bottom of St. Mary's that looked good: seasonal and organic. That was the first place I went when I first met Annie through Clare, when Rees was two. It had a nice atmosphere and kids could kind of blend into the background. We ate well, Kadin ate all of his organic chicken, rice, and salad. And though Kadin was sleepy and said he couldn't walk, I thought he'd be fine climbing, so we did one of the things I never did when we were in Oxford before: climbed St. Mary's tower. The kids loved it. Then climbed and climbed up all the stairs and then we walked around the top, getting a beautiful 360 degree view of the city. Kerry was dizzy from the heights, but soldiered on for us. I was so glad I never did that when I had babies! So glad I did it now that the kids were old enough to enjoy the adventur and be safe as well.

We walked back the same way through Christ Church meadows with Kerry. Got to show her around Oxford! We arranged to meet her later in Abingdon. We had a few moments to rest at the flat and meet up with Greg before getting the bus to Abingdon to meet in front of the Police Station.

Kerry's house was wonderful, as always. Kids were older. Turtle was thriving. Mr. Greenleaf (lizard) had recently died. Barrel with tiny frogs recently hatched from spawn. Cat and all the menagerie. The older kids were focused on their homework, Rees and Kadin gravitated towards the zip line. Perhaps too much for Kadin who decided to jump off early. After falling from a pretty good height, he cried and said the top of his foot hurt. Sounded like it could be a small fracture.

We pretty much carried him for the next week and much of the rest of the trip. Oh well, so much for our walking freedom! It really was a bummer. We decided not to return to the JR (hospital emergency room) for old time's sake.

Annie came over on Tuesday morning and since we couldn't get far with Kadin, we just went over to Christ Church and Greg went in to take a photo for his father. We sat out on the lawn and talked and talked. I missed her so much! Then it was time to catch a cab to Vanessa's for lunch. (Where did we catch a cab? I can't remember. Near the Head of the River? No, I think we walked up into town and caught one at the top of Cornmarket. Was Ned in a stroller for this? Kadin on Greg's shoulders?)

Arrived a bit lat at V's and had a lovely lunch out in the garden. It was warm, I think, and even started raining a bit. It was nice to see V in her home environment. We talked about science. It became clear that there is a lot of work to do on the core samples we collected together last April. Hmmm, maybe I need to come back for a week alone to do that work!

I think we stayed and stayed, and only had a brief time to stop in at the flat, pick up the videos, and wait for Chris to call and say that he would pick us up out front. We were off to Rosie's new house in Standlake for dinner.

Her house was small, but larger than before, with lots of amenities. Really pretty and organized and as always and the kids were thriving. Rees and Catriona put on a gymnastics show out back. Jacob (new!) looks just like his sister. R is doing well with the two kids. Angus, the rabbit, was also still in residence.

Really nice to share some time with them. Was glad I could mostly understand Chris. Rosie is full of ideas as always and very good to talk to about her thoughts and philosophies. She always seems to have strong, clear opinions.

Got home late, tired!

Wednesday was our last full day in the UK. I was beginning to feel like I could never leave! Greg went to meet Vanessa at the Geography department and he was to meet Chris McKenna at Brasenose that night. I took the kids to the LLL meeting at Allison Samuels’. I knew most the people there! Jayne, Kathryn, Rachel, et al. It was really neat to see. I wish I had chatted more with Cathé Heron, but was too self-absorbed talking to the people I used to know. Everyone has two kids now, except Katherine who has four (two new!).

One of the women at the meeting talked about her anxiety over her upcoming visit to her dad's in Romania. People really let her talk and offered her all sorts of good suggestions.

Kathryn had invited me home for lunch. It was nice and tidy and not just because it had just been cleaned. Like Ceri, she is very organized and her kids help out a lot.

Annie came over with Ned and Elsa and we walked down to the Adventure playground to meet Kelly et al. Boy was the playground as fun as ever. I saw Kelly and Kathryn and Annie, and Jason and Holly and their moms, and Tyler and his dad. Samuel too. It was great to see everyone and felt almost like we had never left! What a nice, magical playground that is!

Then Kathryn and Annie and I decided to go out to dinner, something they rarely do. We took all eight kids out to Tootsie's, the burger restaurant at the Castle. Katherine drove Kadin and her brood and Annie, Ned, Elsa, Rees, and I walked. Yes, we really went out to dinner in Oxford with eight kids and three adults. We felt such rebels. We promised not to spill any of our drinks. Yea, right. But we dealt okay, and it was early so not crowded and we were outside so not too disruptive. Kathryn's brother worked next door, so he ran a little interference for us as well. Annie had a rough time, though. Ned insisted on digging through the plant containers and throwing the pebbles on the plaza. Annie would reprimand him and he would laugh and run to another planter. Ugh! The evening culminated when he took off his poopy diaper in the middle of the plaza. Poor Annie!

Elsa wanted to come over to see the flat, but it was late and Annie had the option of a ride home with Kathryn, so they agreed to come over in the morning.

All we did in the morning was walk up to Sainsbury's and buy a picnic lunch that we ate in the St. Ebbes churchyard. Elsa took the day off school to see the flat! Annie said it was nice to break up what she called her "monotonous life."

When we got back to the flat, we had very little time to pack and clean before the taxi got there to take us to Glouchester Green for the bus to Terminal 4 where we would meet my parents for the flight to Oslo. The bus was our last and only chance to see the shark in the house from the Headington Road. We prepared Kadin as we approached. But alas, when we pointed, he looked at the end of our fingers and not the place where we were pointing. He missed it! Kadin!

Coming soon: post on airport and trip to Norway.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Have been trying in vain to have a fun "family outing." We typically go nowhere on weekends, and that seems to work fine, but then I wonder how it would be if we ventured out together (instead of apart). Two weekends ago, another disastrous outing to a garden center. Last weekend, we tried the strawberry picking at the CSA farm we subscribe to. We'd get all the organic strawberries we could eat (part of our subscription, already paid for) and the kids could see where our food comes from.

We drove out to the plains and the kids had a little trouble with the long drive, but with the Pirates of the Carribbean soundtrack, it was tolerable. Then we were assigned our "row" to pick, and pick away we did. Box after box was filled. It seemed like such a short row, but when you looked down and started picking, the universe expanded and you'd work and work and pick and pick, then look up and it see you had done only a tiny bit. The kids did great, with pretty good stamina for their age. We were saved at the end by another family that came along to finish off our row. I think we had about 20 pounds of organic strawberries at that point!

Drive back was long, but relatively uneventful. Kids weren't in love with the outing, but we'd done it and now we were drowning in strawberries. We made smoothies, we made jam, we invited friends over for strawberry dacqueries. I went to the store with a list: cream, ice cream, and cream cheese. Next day I made strawberry scones and strawberry cheesecake. Greg thought his excema was exacerbated by them, so he has stopped eating them. Everyday I eat porridge with strawberries and cream. The kids have a few bowls a day. Thank goodness I recently got a freezer. Many, many have been frozen. They are so good, but perhaps too much of a good thing. Strawberries anyone?


Somehow the computer is not attractive to me these days. I think it was the spring and lure of the garden that first pulled me away, then it was my broken wrist. Now it is the constant interruptions. But I have felt drawn back to post on my blog. I have typed quite a few things, and stuff is always happening that I think would make a good post (like my wrist), but posts are few.

This morning, kid's are at a friend's, so here I am, finally getting things up. Kadin brought home his "writing journal" from kindergarten where he wrote about one sentence a week throughout the year. I realized that in that journal, he had recorded more than I have all year. He documented trips to Ohio, Arizona, Grand Lake, and numerous playdates and computer games. I have lots of these in draft form, have posted none of it, but hope to remedy that over the summer (traditionally my least productive time, but we can dream...). A brief warning that things will be out of order, long, and likely boring, but I want to get them down. One sentence at a time if I have to.


The kids are pretty low maintenance these days, but I still don’t seem to be able to get anything done. A simple task, such as unloading the dishwasher, has innumerable interruptions: the phone rings, the computer doesn’t work, the cat has peed inappropriately somewhere, a neighbor kid found a baby bird in the backyard, the door is locked/unlocked, it’s windy (Kadin needs constant reassurance when there is the slightest breeze), a cat got out, a balloon needs to be tied, etc. And so it goes.

Case in point, yesterday, at about 9am, as I was trying to go the grocery store (after begging Greg to work at home for an hour so I could get some food in) when I looked out one of the few windows that didn’t have curtains drawn (two reasons: one, it keeps the sun out in the morning, so cooler in the afternoons, and two, Kadin can’t tolerate seeing the leaves blowing…) and noticed a man dressed in khakis with a rifle prowling through the back yard. Hmmm. Because he looked like a ranger and there is indeed a lot of wildlife around here, I did not think he was some violent nut job, but it was definitely something new to notice. I went to call the Department of Wildlife to inquire which kind of wildlife he was tracking, when the phone rang. It was a neighbor saying, “There’s a bear in your backyard, keep the kids inside.” Okay, so it’s a bear. Alas, I did not see it and the ranger had moved on into another neighbor’s backyard and around by the playground and the tennis courts, out of sight.

I needed to keep on task and get to the store, so carried on and as I went out to the car, I saw an older man towing a toddler in a wagon. “Hello,” I said, “Did you hear about the bear?” “Hear about it?” he said, “I just saw it. Does this happen all the time?” Turns out he was a visiting grandfather, just out for a walk with the grandson, and by the playground, he encounters a bear. I assured him that while it didn’t happen all the time, it wasn’t that uncommon (and for dramatic effect added that mountain lions were the more typical excitement in the neighborhood).

I saw the ranger again as I was on my way to the store, and he said he’d just lost the bear around the tennis courts. He was waiting to hear on his radio of another sighting. When I came back from the store 45 minutes later, I saw him down at another intersection, about half-a-mile from the house.

Unfortunately, the bear has discovered that neighborhoods offer all kinds of great opportunities for birdseed, garbage, pet food, and BBQ leftovers. We brought in the hummingbird feeder last night but had just used our new-to-us (via Felicity) barbeque for the first time. Tried to burn off all the extra meat so it was not too attractive. Since it was a hot day, I noticed when I went to bed that all the doors were open. Somehow, the screen between the BBQ and the kitchen seemed just too flimsy, so I shut all the doors and left the windows open. Hot days, screen doors, and barbeque grills seem a pretty common and risky combination when a bear is involved. It would be quite easy for a bear to end up in someone’s house or condo and it doesn’t look good for the bear. Best case scenario is that the bear will be relocated. Worst case scenario is property damage, injury, and/or death, most likely for the bear. Welcome to summer…

Sunday, April 01, 2007

April First

Every year I enjoy the April Fools stories on NPR's All Things Considered. I have been fooled badly in the past. So tonight I was listening carefully.

With just 15 minutes to go, an interview came on. It was a review of a biography of dancer/choreographer Jerome Robbins. It was odd. The story of his life is odd: very eccentric, very diverse. One of a kind. Strange drug experiences, strange politics, etc. Especially odd was that the author of the biography was Amanda Veil (not sure of spelling, this being radio). They kept repeating the name of the author. Yes, this has to be the joke, I thought: "A Man Ta Veil," how could a biographer have that name? But strange as the story was, it wasn't strange enough.

Last year's April Fools story was a profile of a billionaire who endowed a new "Positive Opera Company" that was commissioning famous composers to rewrite classic operas and make them less tragic and more uplifting, a la Norman Vincent Peal. Now that is the kind of story that could really raise some hackles, opera fans being so fanatical and all. The story of an odd choreographer just didn't have that same punch. No, Amanda Veil it may be, but it was not the story of the day.

The next story though, about the Indigenous Sculpture Society sounded promising. And indeed, it was about a group of sculptors, whose very British spokeswoman, Olira Pofl (or something close to that), explained how they find strangely named towns, like Monkey's Eyebrow, Kentucky, and sculpt that name (in this case giant Monkey's Eyebrows arching over the highway) out of indigenous materials.

It was a little too wacky, not quite believable this year. Still, I fell for it in a different way. Bring a critical ear to every story and you can't help but be fooled.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Haiku’s from last night

by Greg and Rees

Haikus are easy
They are very fun to do
Except the last line

My brain is frozen
Like a hammer to the head
With frozen cherries

Even if angry
Put homework on the table
Nicer in morning

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Two stories

I was listening to the news last night while at the table with Kadin. A story came on about Putin’s recently reinstated military parades in Red Square.

Kadin’s ears perked up and he said, “Red Square, I know Red Square.” Such outbursts are not unusual for him, he really does pay attention.

“Oh, so you know Red Square from Civilization or Age of Empires?” I ask, because he has regular conversations about Admiral Yi Soon-shin, his Turtle Ships, and such.

“Actually,” he says, “I know it from school.”

“You talked about Red Square in school?”

“It’s one of the centers.”

One of the centers, I think. Oh yes, the four tables where the kindergarteners divide into small groups and do activities: Blue Circle, Orange Triangle, Green Rectangle, and Red Square. There it is, right in the middle of the kindergarten classroom, a famous communist center. Has anyone ever made that connection?


Rees has been forgetting to bring home his homework of late. So we have been working on ways to remember.

After school I say, “Do you know what I am going to ask you?”

“Yes, I remembered it,” he says, “I have my homework.”

“Homework: don’t leave school without it, that’s your motto,” I say.

“No,” Rees says, “My motto is: Why walk if you can run?”

Too true.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


I have been helping with the costumes for Grease, the musical that the 4th and 5th graders at the kids’ school are doing this year. When the musical was first announced, Rees was very excited until he found out that it was not about ancient Greece. He was even less excited when he found out it was all about romance between boys and girls. Now he doesn’t want anything to do with it and won’t even go near one of the circle skirts I am sewing when I need to see if it is approximately the right size. I always felt a little deprived because I had never seen Grease and it was very popular when I was in junior high. It certainly has stuck around.

Apparently the version Rees’ school is doing has been charmingly adapted and sanitized so that it is appropriate for young children. I am dubious. I finally borrowed the DVD and did my annual ironing while watching it. My assessment? It is terrible. I could find very little of value in it. Between the tacky costumes, cheesy dream sequences, and almost unbearable musical production, the story stinks. It’s basically about a sweet girl who is too sweet for her own good. The idea seems to be that you have to join a gang, drink, smoke, and sleep around to be cool, and if the “one you want” goes for the hot dancer from another school, you need become a biker chick. Or something like that. These young couples in relationships that already seem old and tired, getting pregnant or married right out of high school was just depressing to me, not amusing. Having high school graduation be the highlight of their lives made it very clear that it was all going to be down hill from there. I guess I am just jaded. I will be interested to see how this is rehashed for ten-year-olds, something that seems a Herculean task (from a very different sort of Greece).

However, the girls at the school all seem really into it, to be sure. Beauty-school dropout and all. Is that sad or fun? Anyway, I asked Rees, who is in the chorus (as are all the 4th graders), what he needed in the way of a costume. There was a long pause before he replied,

“Um, mom, I think I am going to be a hoplite.”

“A hoplite?” I wrack my brain as the word sounds vaguely familiar. A hoplite is…oh yes, an ancient Greek spearman. You go Rees.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


In college I remember hearing a quote attributed to Toni Morrison that went: "Women love their sons and raise their daughters." I thought that was so true! Why is it that girls/women always seem so functional and responsible and boys/men are cut so much slack? Yes, blame it on those soppy, soft-hearted mothers. They loved their sons and raised their daughters.

Then I heard a radio piece recently about how, on average, girls do two hours more housework each week than boys do. The reporter of the story attributed this to leftover sexist stereotypes where women’s domain is the home. They interviewed moms, their daughters, and their sons. Everyone agreed that it wasn't fair, but they all just said that was the way it turned out.

In college I would have agreed that this was due to sexism. Now that I am the mother of sons, I have to defend mothers and say that we are not to blame. Now I know the sad truth: it is not sexism, it is just that boys have zero interest in doing things that you ask them to do. Zero. Ask them to do something practical and watch as their eyes glaze over and their body goes slack. Ask a girl, and they will be interested and give it a try. They may not be thrilled, but they want to be helpful. I see this all the time when I work in my son's classrooms. The girls enjoy the idea of doing the work, doing it neatly, and getting it done. The boys could care less.

In the end, it is just a whole lot easier to ask a girl to do something. With boys it is like pulling teeth. There is so much resistance that it often ends up taking more time than it is worth. It's not that it can't be done, but it truly is tempting not to bother. The basic fact is: you are going to have to work harder to get boys to do the same number of hours of housework. That seems to me to be a much more sensible explanation for why girls tend to do more housework. The idea that it all stems from ingrained sexist attitudes seems more remote. Now that I have sons, I truly believe there are innate differences between the sexes. Our job is not to make things the same, but to make them equal. I’m all for fairness and equal shares, but boy is it an uphill battle.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

More Boulder moments

You know you live in Boulder when…

You go to pick up your child from a playdate at his classmate's house. You follow the directions, find the address, and discover it’s your local yoga ashram. Cool.

You go to your friend's house to sew Halloween costumes after school. She is a practicing Buddhist and has a lama from Bhutan staying with her. You sit and sew and explain the characters of the Lord of the Rings to him. You ask him what he thinks about kids playing with toy weapons. In broken English he replies: "You can't go against nature." Good answer.

You are working at a garage sale at someone else's house when a woman shopping at the sale introduces herself as a neighbor. You explain that this is not your house or even your neighborhood, but she does look familiar. She agrees. You stare at each other, compare notes on schools, etc., but nothing matches. "I feel like I know you, like we have had deep conversations," you say. "Yes," she nods, "I feel that too. Well, I am a professional clairvoyant and an intuitive." Oh great, you think, we probably met in a former life. Finally it hits you, that you know her from your magazine writing class. Yes, yes, that's it! She gives you her card. Another typical acquaintance.

Read more Boulder moments here and here.

Monday, February 05, 2007

What a difference temperament makes

First Kadin and then Rees have come down with a nasty virus. It starts with a sore throat and fever and moves on to laryngitis, trouble breathing, and a bad cough. I am pretty sure Kadin got it from his friend at school. I was briefed on the progression by this friend's mom. Luckily, or I might have taken Kadin in for a throat culture. He missed three days of school, hung out at home, napped, played on the computer, and generally was amenable and amused himself. He had this terrible wheeze, but didn't seem overly bothered by it and just soldiered on. "Don't you want to cough?" I would ask, and he would shake his head, "It hurts to cough," he would croak. He recovered.

Almost a week to the day later, Rees came down with a bad sore throat then a fever. He too stayed home from school. But he is a different guy with a different temperament. He doesn't really nap. He doesn't really self-entertain, and he is not prone to relaxing. If he has trouble breathing, he works harder at it, feels trapped, starts to panic, tightens up some more and it starts this whole negative feedback cycle. Poor Rees. His eyes wide, sweat on his brow, his chest heaving, he is desperate to breathe, getting worse and worse! If Kadin hadn't had it first I would have rushed Rees off to the emergency room thinking he was going to die. Hoping to avoid such a scenario, and knowing that his tendency is to tense and work harder, I talked him through relaxed breathing: being patient and letting it happen, pausing at the end of the inhalation and the exhalation, long, gentle, slow breaths. Luckily, he listened (for a change), and it worked. Soon, he was breathing normally again.

As he lay on the couch I gave him a little bell since he couldn't call out (he had lost his voice) and he was too tired to walk. Sometimes he would ring the bell if he was having trouble breathing and ask me to talk him through calming down again. Sometimes he would just ring the bell to ask me to be with him. It seems that he could sense as soon as I was in the middle of the really critical part of something and then ring the bell. That's Rees. He needs someone to be involved with everything about him. Alas, he is a difficult patient to have at home. He is resistant to things that might make him feel better like trying a cup of tea or taking a bath. By dinnertime on Friday it was really bad. I'm sure it didn't help that the “high” temperature was in the single digits so the air especially dry. He didn't want to stay home when I went to pick up Kadin from school (a 5 min walk) so went with me for a little bit before deciding to turn back. When we returned from school, he ran out to meet us, panic in his eyes. Running in the frigid air was the wrong approach. His lungs just could not recover. Finally, we made a warm vapor chamber with the shower in the bathroom and that stopped the cycle of panic and calmed his lungs down. I was worried we'd be up all night, but he slept well. In the morning, it took a while of him laying on the floor in the steamy bathroom and asking me to talk him through breathing a few times before he could get up and function. I hope that was the worst of it. And I hope Greg and I don't succumb. It has brought into stark relief what a difference temperament makes. In a survival situation where strength, fast action, and effort is required, Rees would win out every time. In a situation that requires, calm, finesse, and patience, Kadin is the one who will shine.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Natural history of dust

In the low winter light you become aware of dust. It's a seasonal thing. Dust doesn't seem such a big deal in the summer. I am sure it is still there, but with the sun high in the sky, it is nearly invisible. The winter, with it's low-angled rays brings dust to your attention. You can see it's shadow on surfaces and it is alarming: big, hulking elongated shadows creeping up behind you like giant mutant dust creatures from a horror movie. High up by the ceiling, cobwebs are suddenly backlit. Swirls of dust never seen before are illuminated as they twist though the air.

I am not a big fan of dust, but still, it fascinates me. It's kind of like the weeds in the garden in that, though unwanted, can still teach you things about what grows well where. Weeds can map the water available and the microclimate of different areas. Dust is a map of energy flow. Particles are picked up from high-flow areas and deposited in low-flow areas. You can use this knowledge of energy currents to help you arrange things and prioritize cleaning. Maybe you could even make a clever dust trap behind the door or under that dresser where it always gathers.

And what about what is in the dust? In my kitchen, it is usually filled with goldfish cracker crumbs and the like. In the entry, the grime is more sandy, in the bedroom, more feathery. After we got the cats, it became more furry. Maybe I should set up dust traps in different parts of the house, collect little vials, and compare...

Anyway, I am not alone in this odd idea. Just today I read in the paper that the National Institute of Standards and Technology sells 10 gram samples of "standard house dust" [Standard Reference Material 2585] for $450 a bottle. (Yes! I have a gold mine! Except that the NIST samples are irradiated and somehow expensively processed to prepare them for study. Sigh.) This "standard" house dust is used to give environmental scientists a baseline of chemicals that would normally be found in a house. Just so you know, higher concentrations of toxics were found in American household dust than European household dust. Interesting. I wonder how our house dust compares. And I've noticed that the dust is different in the different places we've lived. In more urban areas it is darker, blacker. Out here in Colorado it is a sandy tan color.

So before you throw open your windows on the first warm day of spring and whisk it away, think about what you can learn from the dust in your home.

And then there’s dryer lint…

Monday, January 29, 2007


I have not written about the cats since they were kittens. I must tell you how Pearl is getting on now that she is almost two. Pearl is still perfect. She is petite and beautiful with delicate features and little tufts of hair at the tips of her large ears that make her look like a pixie. Her coat is slightly curly—wavy really—like an elegant 1920s hairdo. Some would say (actually have said) that she is standoffish and not very friendly, but to me she is perfectly independent. Not like Rex, who most categorize as outgoing and friendly and I categorize as pathologically needy. Pearl does have her odd habits, though. She licks paper. Obsessively licks paper. Rex licks me, which I find annoying, but Pearl prefers paper. I don't know why. And then while Rex will play and retrieve a ball, Pearl carries things. She methodically brings things up from my studio or the laundry closet and deposits them by the front door or on the stairs. It is a real drag to come home and find socks, underwear, and balls of yarn on the doormat. But I guess it beats finding dead and maimed vermin. I have filled many a basket with her nightly haul. At first I thought she was bringing "prey" to show me, but then it occurred to me that maybe it is kittens. Maybe she needs kittens. Maybe she needs something to lick and to carry. She is not fixed and she is very vocal about the fact that something is missing in her life.

And that brings me to her one flaw: her voice. Her attempts at attracting a mate, are, to my ears, repellent. She is like the silent movie actress in Singing in the Rain who is beautiful and elegant, but when the talkies come along, it turns out she has a terrible voice. Pearl, it seems, can only do whiny and loud. There is no persuasion, no finesse, only obnoxious demanding. Rex, the goofy one, has a modulated voice that can sound very charming and almost like he is talking. Pearl has just one horrible sound. Oh well.

A couple of weeks ago I was home working when she just would not let up. She would get right in my face and repeatedly let out her screechy meow. I was getting ready to go out and she redoubled her efforts. What was up? I thought I had just better check downstairs to see if there was some reason for her behavior. I looked, and sure enough, I had left the door to their litter box closed. Ooops. Okay, so I opened that and looked around some more to find that Rex had been shut in my studio the whole time too. So she may be loud and obnoxious, but she was right. I still think she is perfect.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

More outdoor tips from last weekend’s paper

No Swimming: much of what you know about surviving an avalanche is wrong

Okay, and then there was this skiing piece—

Hucking yourself off your first cliff: jumping off cliffs takes a little practice but isn’t as hard as it may seem

Right, so we’ve got 72-hour marathons, running trails at night, surviving avalanches, and jumping off cliffs. Do any of these sound like good ideas to you? I didn't even write about the 53 year old man who free solos (that's rock climbing without ropes) 1,500 vertical feet every morning. He said the experience was "embiggening" which is right up there with "Danielesque" in my book. Such is life in Boulder. Can't wait to see what's suggested in next weekend's paper.

Nocturnal adventure

Yes, we have had quite a bit of snow. For the most part, it has been nice. Colorado snow is usually what snow should be: fluffy, white, and beautiful. Combine that with the warm temperatures that usually follow and lots of solar radiation, and for us, that means snow can be experienced in shirt sleeves and quickly melts off all the roads and pathways. We have not been too inconvenienced by the snow, but, because we’ve had so much, we did have a few days there of icky gray icy stuff. A few more inches of powder over the weekend took care of that. It’s above freezing and sunny again today.

So snow in Colorado I don’t mind so much. But the wind can be brutal. We regularly have 90mph winds in our neighborhood and those days are tough. Or maybe I should say nights, because the winds mostly happen at night, but can go on for days.

It was a week ago and we were in a bit of climactic shock after returning from our tropical vacation with Greg’s family. We were pleased that we were able to drive our car out of the park-and-ride (an uncovered lot with lots of new snow during the interval we were away)—just barely—without getting stuck in the snow for too long. The long day of travel, the snow, tired children, a frozen hatchback door, all conspired to somehow keep us from putting on socks. The snow and the close call getting stuck at the park-and-ride kept us from parking in our driveway, so we walked the last block to the house in flip flops with suitcases and sleeping children. That was a sight I am sure.

The next day we unpacked, moved back in, took down the holiday decorations to prepare for Kadin’s birthday, and hunkered down for the predicted windstorm, safe and cozy in the house. The storms are LOUD. When people say hurricanes sound like a freight train, they are right. Everyone has trouble sleeping on such nights. I am always a bit worried about what might blow away outside or what might blow into the house. Just after Greg and I got into bed and read for a bit, the power went out. So we went to sleep.

At about 2:30 in the morning, Kadin came up to say his leg hurt. I put him back to bed and remembered the visions I’d been having all night of the Christmas tree that I’d put out in front of the house blowing into the window like a javelin or breaking off some of the small new trees I’d planted out front. The snow was gusting up against the windows, the wind was roaring, and outside did not look fit for man or beast. I could see the Christmas tree lashing up against the new sumacs I’d planted. I’ll just do it, I thought, run out and move it to the back. It will only take a second and then I’ll sleep better.

So I put on a coat and shoes, unlocked the deadbolt and dashed out. Luckily it was not too cold and I quickly found a better spot to deposit the tree. Dashed back to the front door to find it…locked. I had forgotten about the lock on the knob. We usually don’t use that and it was dark so I didn’t see that it was locked. No big deal, I’ll go in through the garage. But the garage is electric and the electricity was still out. No dice. So that’s why the kids were sleeping without their night lights…. Okay, so another door. I mentally go through the other doors and know they are all locked as I had just checked them that evening and, since we’d been away, everything was double checked and tight. Fine, I’ll have to wake Greg up with the doorbell. Only—uh oh—no doorbell, that requires power too. It was LOUD with the wind/freight train. I tried knocking, to no avail. I pictured Greg sleeping soundly with five pillows stacked on his head to keep out the sound of the wind. I called and I knocked and the sound got sucked away as soon as it was made. At first I worried that I might wake the kids, then I hoped I would! I had plenty of time to think through options and I couldn’t think of any. Wake a neighbor and call? How could I wake a neighbor if I couldn’t wake Greg? Who would be up if the power was out? Finally I decided to trek around to the back of the house. There was a nice, bright moon. If it weren’t for the wind it would have been peaceful with the white snow and no electric lights. But then I felt very visible, like mountain lion bait. The trek was daunting in 2ft of snow, but luckily the snow had mostly blown away by then into big drifts in the field behind. When I called and knocked on the back, by Greg’s head, he heard me and came to the front door.

“What in the world are you doing out here????” he asked, incredulous, “Do you often walk around in the middle of the night?”

I explained the conspiracy of circumstances. So I survived the windstorm in the end and got back to sleep eventually. The next morning on the walk to school I noticed a strange square in the snow next to our neighbor’s house. Inside were toy dinosaurs and a plastic play fence. How odd that this little set up survived the snow and the wind. Something was missing, though. What used to be there? And then, about 50ft down the path, I saw their wooden sandbox smashed against some boulders. Another 20ft down the path was the awning for the sandbox that had turned into a sail. Whoa.