Thursday, February 28, 2008

An Acre of One's Own

About every year or so, CP and I start talking more seriously about moving to greener pastures. That is, we start surfing the online real estate databases and dreaming more concretely than we do the rest of the year about buying a house with more land.

One reason for wanting a couple of acres is so that we (well, mostly I) can have a garden that produces a more significant portion of our food. This aspiration of mine was recently fanned into flame by Barbara Kingsolver's compelling book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. In her witty, gritty, intelligent style, she describes her family's experiment of becoming "locavores"--eating only food raised on their Virginia farm or produced in that region (or state). The reasons for doing so are too many to list and explain here. Anyway, Kingsolver does it much better than I ever could, so you'll have to read the book yourself.

As a result of reading it, I found a web site called Local Harvest that lets you search for family farms, CSA's, farmer's markets, etc. in your own geographic region. I was amazed and excited to find that surprising numbers of these resources exist practically in my neighborhood. A few phone calls and emails could connect me to a regular supply of homegrown eggs, poultry, produce, and more. This is my project for March, I think: read up on heirloom vegetables, plan my modest suburban garden, buy seedlings from one of the family farms down the road, check out the farmer's markets (some have limited winter hours), and consider purchasing a share in a CSA, as well as a (mini though it may be) freezer for preserving local produce/meat.

Another reason for wanting more land is so that NS can grow up with a healthy love of the natural world, and with plenty of space for outdoor, creative play--something that is, appallingly, getting squeezed out of kids' lives these days. Out with the TV's and mountains of toys, I say, and in with the sandboxes, tree swings, and gardens.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


I've been to the doctor's office four times in the past two months. (On one of those occasions I happened to be sick, although I was not the patient that day.) Yesterday, after driving through an afternoon snow shower, I spent about fifteen minutes in the waiting room. I went through the routine weight/temperature/pulse/blood pressure routine with the nurse, then waited in the exam room for at least half an hour with a sleeping eight-week-old who might have awakened at any moment and started howling for milk.

As a healthy person who had no experience with doctor's appointments for at least the first two decades of my life, I felt a creeping annoyance at the inconvenience of this cumbersome script called "health care." Why had I bothered to come?

Then I remembered a recent NPR report about Tanzania, where clinics are scraping for funds and people with malaria and TB stay home and get sicker because they lack money for treatment. I also thought of my dad, who in his medical practice has felt the pressure of a long line of patients on a tight schedule. My doctor probably had a good reason for taking as long as she did.

And I'd much rather go to the doctor's office when I'm well than have to stay home when I'm sick.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


SK (my mentee from the church youth group) and I made a pizza dinner to celebrate her birthday. It was her first time making pizza. Yum!

NS in a relaxed mood

NS in a perky mood


The queen-sized bed was covered in mounds of gently used infant clothing, hand-me-downs from a colleague whose daughter is now two years old. I stood there, paralyzed. What could one child possibly do with this many articles of clothing? Most were "made in China" (Kenya, Malaysia, Bulgaria, Mexico). The variety defied limits: tiny cream sweaters hand-crafted in Italy, stylish baby-sized Levi's, sunshine-colored dresses with little matching underpants and hats, red-trimmed Onesies with ladybugs marching across the front, mini purple stretch pants with a flower on the seat, a bit of blue, a splash of green, and pink, pink, PINK.

The most baffling aspect of this organization project that stretched over several days was the deciphering of sizes. A flower-embroidered sweater marked "6-9 months" was the same size as a ruffly shirt sized "12 months." A "9 months" peach print sleeper landed on the same heap with denim overalls labeled "18-24 months." The wild inconsistency was astonishingly consistent: every piece of clothing was a surprise. When I finally figured this out, I started laying them one atop the other to "measure" the sizes. Using this method, I eventually bagged the clothes in four or five rough size categories. (The number of bags was much higher; the surplus will be shared with friends and donated to a nonprofit.)

Trying to navigate the erratic sizing reminded me of trying to read a literary piece in which every third word is gibberish. (In fact, such literature exists. Take, for example, Shel Silverstein's collection, Runny Babbit, or Lewis Carroll's poem, Jabberwocky. I suggested to CP that he use the latter as a tool for teaching parts of speech to his seventh graders, like Mad Libs.) The two experiences differ in that the nonsensical literature makes much more sense.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

So Much for Schedule

For the past several days, it looked like NS was developing a nighttime pattern: start sleeping about 11:00 PM, wake up between 2:00 and 3:00 AM for feeding and changing, and then sleep until about 6:00 AM. Not bad.

Not so. Last night, to our delight, she fell asleep about 8:30 PM. But then she woke up at 12:48, 3:18, and 5:20 (staying awake an average of 45 minutes each time). Oh, well. My grandfather used to say that one hour of sleep prior to midnight is worth two after midnight. If you look at it that way, we got approximately eight hours' worth of uninterrupted sleep last night.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


I recently placed a rather large online order for books. I can't wait for them to get here! They are bilingual and Spanish children's books, most of them vocabulary-based board books for young children. I am determined to teach Spanish to my daughter as she grows up. This opportunity is too good to pass up. Why pay for Spanish lessons when she's older if I can infuse her little brain with it from the start?

But there are potential obstacles. First, now that I'm officially unemployed, my contact with native Spanish speakers is limited to weekly small talk with one Mexican guy who attends our church. Everyone else in NS' world speaks English. In my observation, the dominant language of a child's environment invariably becomes her dominant language. So what are the odds she'll come out fully bilingual/biliterate in such a lopsided language environment? Also, it could get a little awkward to speak what seems like our own private language that few others in our surroundings can understand. It's hard to imagine how a dual-language family dinner conversation would work, for example.

Second, my domestic vocabulary is limited. I'm used to talking, reading and writing about things like report cards, school physicals, and Individualized Education Plans, not diapers and nursery rhymes. I can point out the flowers on a springtime walk, but would be at a loss to name them. That's where the books come in. I'm hoping they will be a tool to help me increase my Spanish kid vocab while introducing it to NS and CP.

Here's a clip of NS just after bath time, practicing her emergent conversation skills. As usual, she's tickled to be clothes-free.

Friday, February 8, 2008

To readers who imagine my blog title is a cleverly (or less-than-cleverly) invented neologism

Look it up. No, no, don't click over to I mean really look it up. Pull that ten-pound Random House Unabridged Dictionary off the shelf, let it fall on your lap with a thud, and rustle its pages until you come to the M section. After all, that's how I found my title.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Spring in February?

Yesterday I was on the couch trying to sleep off a fever. Foggily, I thought I heard a robin...or maybe a flock of them. Sure enough, this morning there was a little russet-bellied guy preening itself in the tree outside my window (not far from where the cat was crouched the other day). As if that's not enough to tempt spring fever (the fun kind), three-inch daffodil shoots have appeared in my flower bed almost overnight. Furthermore, last night I slept with the window open. No, I don't live in the southern hemisphere.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Strange Sights

First of all, the temperature gauge is registering high sixties in early February, giving the day an April-like feel.

This morning I was sitting in my second-story bedroom when an unusual movement in the evergreen tree outside caught my eye. A bird? No, it was one of those sly neighborhood-roaming cats slinking around the upper branches, lying in ambush for unsuspecting nuthatches and juncos. I had an impulse to throw open the window and yell at it, or better yet, blast it with a Super Soaker. At the moment, though, I was nursing NS and so remained glued to the rocking chair.

Moments later I watched as a gray squirrel, scampering along the heights of one of the tall backyard locust trees, stuffed some nest material in its mouth, made a leap for the next branch, and missed, plummeting out of sight! My jaw hung on its hinge. Never in my thirty years of living had I ever witnessed one of those astonishing little acrobats missing the mark. I wanted to run to the window and rubberneck, like passers-by at the scene of an accident. Had it smashed to the ground? Did it hit the ground running? Or did it miraculously catch another branch on the way down? I hoped for the latter.

In light of the balmy weather, I decided to pack a bit of lunch and take NS for a stroll in the park next to the hospital following her medical appointment. As we entered the little park, a trim, white-haired man was walking just ahead of us on the gravel path. He stopped at a small deck on the bank of the duck pond. I pushed the stroller beyond him to the gazebo and parked NS in the sunlight so I could eat my PBJ and watch the water fowl. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the man begin to sweep the air slowly with his arms and swing his legs as if performing a private dance. It was a fairly fluid movement, but seemed formless, as if he was making it up as he went along. Who knows, perhaps he was a master of Tai Chi, perfecting his art over lunch break.

As NS snoozed, I turned my attention to the Canada geese gliding busily around the pond in their elegantly tailored uniforms. A squadron of them came overhead out of nowhere, lowering their landing gear with graceful precision and braking efficiently by skiing for several noisy yards across the lake surface before settling in. They are living land-and-sea planes, I observed (strangely enough, maybe for the first time).

Leaning over the gazebo balcony, I was startled to see, among the brown tangle of winter stalks, a few clusters of berries. They were not red, as I would have expected, but magenta. Pink berries in February! My first inclination was to look up the plant in a field guide. I've seen wildflower guides and tree guides...but is there such a thing as a berry book?

P.S. In a not-so-strange, but noteworthy observation, the doctor's scales read "eleven pounds, thirteen ounces" on NS' six-week birthday. That's a three-pound gain since her ten-day check-up, enough to make a breastfeeding mom proud.

Monday, February 4, 2008


One of the habits that I'm still trying to cultivate is the practice of the examen. In a nutshell, the examen is the daily (though it can be practiced weekly, monthly, yearly, etc.) discipline of reviewing the events of the day (week, month) and identifying the low point and the high point. (Sleeping With Bread: Holding What Gives you Life, by Matthew and Dennis Linn and Sheila Fabricant Linn, is an excellent introduction to this simple concept.)

The examen has served as a tool for spiritual and personal growth in the Christian tradition and, I'm sure, in an array of other contexts. In my limited experience, the examen can be helpful as a way to pay attention to what's important in life, to connect with one's spouse at the end of the day, or to bring closure to the day and fall asleep. The valley and mountaintop moments recalled range from trivial to profound.

For example, today's low (which sounds like a weather forecast) was tearing open the mail from the State Department of Health to find a crisp, new birth certificate for NS...featuring not one, but FOUR errors. It didn't come as a complete surprise, since her social security card had arrived days earlier with a misspelled last name. What now? Send back the document with a letter of explanation, wait for the new certificate while holding my breath and hoping they get it right this time, and then re-apply for the social security card (probably in person at the local office, which means squeezing a squalling NS into her car seat and dragging her into town to wait our turn behind the red tape) with corrected birth certificate and who knows what other required forms of identification in hand.

How did I acquire these flawed documents in the first place? A month or two before NS was born, I called the local health department to ask if they had an application for a home birth certificate, and was instructed to stop by and pick one up. When I showed up, the staff could not locate the form. They asked me to write my name and address on a sticky note so they could mail it to me when they found it. Sure enough, the form arrived in the mail. CP and I meticulously filled in all the little boxes with a ballpoint pen (checking the box indicating we wanted a social security card) and dropped it off at the health department when NS was ten days old. The next step was to fill out another paper and mail it (with $12) to the Office of Vital Records to request a copy of the certificate. "But wait a few weeks until the application is processed," said the receptionist.

The ensuing bloopers conjured visions of inept secretaries in seventies-style cubicles, shuffling papers and pecking at electric typewriters--a frustrating image in this century of electronic ease. I did my share of grumbling before remembering that lots of people in this world have to put up with much more: long lines and exorbitant prices for basic necessities, blatant corruption, obsolete equipment, and/or staggering disorganization (i.e., in some countries it's impossible even to get a birth certificate).

There were two high points of my day. One was giving NS a bath. (I've decided we should do so more often because she enjoys it so much.) The other was reading her The Hungry Little Caterpillar. I kid you not--she looked at all the pictures, listened intently, and made happy sounds. Here she is, wearing her hungry caterpillar suit (thanks, Auntie G!).

Acting Debut

NS recently starred in a promotional video clip for Volunteer Emergency Families for Children. It was a non-speaking part, but hey, what can a five-week-old expect for her first crack at movie stardom? You can see her debut at: