29 April 2006

Auto Angst

Thanks for all the interesting comments to the last post. I so want an auto coop like Arwen's. That sounds way cool. Anyway, I highly recommend all the comments: very interesting notions there, and anyone who's feeling like s/he doesn't do enough will take comfort from all the balancing in the different comment posts.

I know your weekends won't be complete without an update on our auto angst. We are currently weighing the following issues:
  • we already own a fairly new, very comfy station wagon, which will be our car for long trips (such as the one we will take out East in July) for the forseeable future. But we need a second car, to be used mainly for work commutes (~10 miles/weekday) and the occasional jaunt around town
  • we are spending buckets and buckets (well, the bank is, as we refinanced the mortgage) on the very big home renovation project we're in the midst of, and we're waiting on updated financials from our contractor. At last check, we were $2500 over budget and 80% done with the project. But there are plenty of details left to be settled (like can we afford to replace a few more windows in the house, do we need to repave the driveway, surely we need window treatments). And we've just committed to a private school for Curious Girl to start next year. So there are lots of opportunities for spending money around here, and we need to plan carefully. I'm thrilled we can afford the expenditures we can, but we're in the midst of some budget transitions and it's a lot to keep track of.
  • I really want a hybrid car, but they are more expensive, and even with the tax credit, the small amount of driving we do isn't going to make up the costs
  • Hybrids cost more energy to produce than some non-hybrids, although hybrids use less gas and send out far fewer emissions.
  • the chronic-disease factor is hard to predict: Politica is often achy, and while yesterday she loved the Scion, today she loathed it. The scion gets mixed green ratings from two sites and we can't decide what to make of that, but if the car is too achy-inducing it probably doesn't matter.
  • we can't decide whether it is just a flat out bad idea to buy a subcompact car without side air bags (the new small toyota, which is really called the yaris but which I keep referring to as the yurt, can't get side airbags)
  • we can't decide whether it would be OK to have a car that Politica really doesn't like to drive. I'm not so fussy: any of the options would be fine with me. But the rough ride of smaller cars is not so good for her. But is a car the size of the civic or corolla too much car for a second, drive-to-work-and-back car? we can't decide.
  • we think it would be more prudent to minimize immediate expenses, which probably rules out a hybrid for now. I feel badly about that. But it's a lot more expensive. So then I feel badly and chintzy. Sigh. Then I thought, let's buy a used car, not a new one. That made us feel overwhelmed. Too many options.
  • we both thought the scion xb was very fun to drive
  • Curious Girl thinks we should buy a red car, and I agree.
  • At the end of our time at a dealer, CG wanted me to go in one of the cars out on the showroom floor. "Let's have a big ol' meeting!" she said. "I'll drive."

Here's wishing all of you a decisive weekend.

26 April 2006

Doing What We Can

Edited to make the link here functional

Ianqui drew attention to a wonderful, fierce post at The Oil Drum today,
Discussions about Energy and Our Future
"The political discourse on [rising prices of gasoline in the US] is simply so devoid of fact, and constructive discourse so buried and out of the mainstream, that we felt we needed to raise a voice of reason. Public officials will continue to misinform and obfuscate if we allow it.

The only solution is to educate the public about the most important problem we face as a generation. We, the citizens of the US and the world, must move our attention to this the issue of energy more than any other. We must hold our representative governments accountable for having an open and honest debate on the subject.

Simply put, we must learn more about where our energy comes from."
The rest of the piece makes some sharp points about what we all should know about the price of oil, and the comments are also quite smart.

I've been an avid recycler for years--I recycle even when it's momentously inconvenient to do so, and I do what I can in terms of buying in bulk, shopping at garage sale, frequenting used clothing shops--to try to reduce my impact on the earth. I try to buy local produce, I try to cook in season. That said, I drive to work each day; Politica and I have two cars for our two-driver family; I'm not always as organic a gardener as I'd like to be. We're probably going to pave over the strip of grass (which looks more like a mud rut) on the driveway when the construction is finished. But I try.

If, like me, you think about these contradictions, read that post at the Oil Drum. It'll get you thinking more.

In a hail storm last week, our 1993 Corolla got damaged so badly that the insurance company wants to total it. We're thinking of buying a Prius (although I've read that the electric cars essentially let car companies trade off gas-guzzling big models with the CAFE emissions trades, so even that doesn't seem like a wholly virtuous move).

I'm wondering what you, dear readers, are doing to try to balance the needs of modern, sometimes urban, living with the needs for our earth to be well-tended?

25 April 2006

For People Done with the Alphabet

Lots of people--Scrivener, Ianqui, Phantom, Lisa at Vindauga--are doing the alphabet post, but my procrastination today was inspired by a feature at Collin v. Blog: an even cooler version of a word cloud. So, people like me who have a little time to use at lunch, but not so much time to venture into the alphabet might want to check out a word cloud for their template. See mine in my rearranged sidebar. I like it.

22 April 2006

Happy Birthday, Shingled One!

I bet that Phantom would agree that April 22 is a good day for a birthday: Happy Birthday, Mr. Blue, and Happy Birthday, Politica!

While the Scribbler-Blues were warbling various versions of happy birthday, the Granola family was out and about at our local living history museum. Since People in Period Costumes are Scary, not much history is actually absorbed by Curious Girl on any visit there, but there are long country lanes, newborn lambs, lots of flowers in bloom, and a playground. So fun was had. "Do you want to listen to the breeze in the wind?" CG asked Politica as we got ready to head down a nature trail. The breeze in the wind was beautiful, and it was great that Politica is feeling recovered enough from her shingles to come out for a day. We found a year-old but new-to-us Belgian brasserie not far from our house, and had mussels and pommes frites--I mean, freedom fries--and then came home for a frozen custard cake. There is a lot of cake left over, and CG and I haven't yet made the [Politica! spoiler alert!!!] cupcakes that CG considers
considers necessary to any birthday celebration. "We don't need balloons," CG informed me this morning, but cupcakes are a necessity. As is, apparently, a family birthday badge. At a garage sale this morning we found a button that says "Happy Birthday!" on it, and Politica wore it all day. CG gets it on her birthday in a few weeks. Very exciting, as it's kind of like the VIP badge that one child gets to wear each day in CG's classroom. (The VIP has both privilege and responsibility: s/he has to decide whether to start the Pledge alone or all together, give a weather report at circle time, help set the table for lunch, and is at the head of every line modeling quietness when going past the babyrooms or good walking when heading outside. I thought it was rather odd when I heard about it, but the kids love it. And the Birthday Badge is just very exciting. After one day, I highly recommend them.)

It's been a tough year for Politica. Her father is ailing (although he's doing a little better lately, and is having surgery later in the week, he's been in hospital since last Labor Day, which is not encouraging); her shingles have been awful; she's been sick a few other times; she's missing some far-off friends. Good things have happened, too: she's tenured, so she's getting to order Associate Professor Politica business cards; she has a cool new academic project in the works; she's done wonderful work choosing and applying paint colors in our new rooms. But still, it's been a tough year, and birthdays always bring some tough introspection for her.

We had a birthday treasure hunt this morning (I'll let you guess whose idea it was to hide the presents and get Mommy to look for them), and Curious Girl and I got Politica several gifts. She'd asked for Linda Greenhouse's biography of Harry Blackmun (which looks awesome), and Kate Bush's new CD, and we also got her a sketch of me and CG done by the 10-year old son of a friend, and we made her cards. But what I wish for my love for the coming year is the ability to see herself as CG and I do--when we look over at her, we see a smart, funny, capable and witty woman who fills us up with love, and who gets CG's little legs pumping as she dashes down the hall for a hug. I wish the confidence that would come from that vision were a more constant companion. Not that it's never present, but I wish her to have it more often. We love you, honey.

Happy Birthday. Here's to many more.

19 April 2006

(mini)Seder 4: Bedtime, and a Snowy Day

Ok, so it's not really a seder if the only cup involved is one of bedtime water (and that being left downstairs, to boot). But it was sort of a seder, involving matzah.

These days, a part of our bedtime ritual is making challah. I get hungry after all that toothbrushing, potty-going and/or bath-making, pj-donning activities. So I think, maybe some challah. I mix up the ingredients, with a Pretend Curious Girl to help me, and Curious Girl transforms into the dough. Which needs kneading (which sometimes tickles, but the dough tries really hard not to laugh), and which needs to be covered up with the warm blankets to rise, and which needs to be rolled into dough snakes and then braided, left to rise again and then painted with egg wash and maybe sprinkled with sesame or poppy seeds. The dough sometimes talks to me to help me figure out what it needs, and Pretend Curious Girl helps with all that, since real CG is too busy being dough to help me. And then I pop the dough into the oven (under the blankets), Pretend CG sets the timer and bing! fresh challah! It's so yummy! and then, CG is back and we go to bed.

During Passover, we've been making matzah. CG's class when to a matzah factory (I think it was some kind of Chabad outreach at an orthodox synagogue in town--I was not clear on that) and they made matzah together, so she--as talking matzah dough-- told me how we need to roll the dough, pat it down, use a fork to make the little holes, and then use a shovel to put it in the oven. We've had some fun making matzah at bedtime, but tonight, she said, "You be the Jewish people, and you have to go away." "And take my matzah," I said. "Of course!" she agreed. So i mixed up my matzah, and started to bake my bread, and Moses and Miriam announced it was time to go. So I grabbed my matzah and left the bed and wandered all around the room with it, until we came to the Red Sea, which looked a lot like my pair of black slippers in the evening light. we decided to cross it fast fast, the better to get into the bed and away from Pharaoh.

And I know, in other people's seders, there's some singing and dancing on the other side of the Red Sea. But tonight, in the bedtime seder, we decided we were hungry, and I made another piece of matzah. The first one was just so good. CG asked me to be the Jewish people again, but I said no, one wandering in the desert in an evening was enough for me, even with the World's Most Adorable Matzah with me.

And then we read The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keat's beautiful book, which CG still likes to act out. So she walked around the room with her toes pointed in, and out; she dragged her feet and smacked a snow-covered tree; she made two snow angels, and slid down a hill, and put a pretend snowball in her pretend pocket.

And then, in the Promised Land of her Bed with Clean Sheets and a Pretend Snowfall on the Floor, she fell asleep.

I posted too soon.....

Or, the problems of counting multi-day holidays. It's FRIDAY that's waffle day. Curious Girl's school was closed today, so I figured today was the last day of Passover. But I guess it was closed in anticipation of Passover/Yizkor? I'm a little fuzzy on all this.

But waffles, Friday. Sigh.

18 April 2006

What We're Having for Breakfast on Thursday

Yeasted waffles are one of the very best breakfast foods ever, and they are really, really easy. You do need a waffle iron, but that's easy enough to remedy. If you have a waffle iron and you never use it because you think waffles are too much trouble, think again! Yeasted waffles are easy.

In a large bowl, mix .5 tsp rapid-rise yeast, 2 c. unbleached white flour, and .5 tsp. salt. (note to people who may be reading quickly: those are decimals before the 5s--as in, one-half tsp for each measurement). Melt .25 c. butter. In another bowl, beat 2 eggs, and mix in the melted butter and 2 c. milk and .5 tsp. vanilla extract. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture, stir to combine, and cover and let sit at room temperature to rise for one hour and fifteen minutes. Or overnight, as the case may be.

Use around one-third of a cup of batter for each waffle. Top with syrup, or fruit, or jam, or sugar. (This recipe is from Moosewood Classics.)

A few random comments: Christine Lavin (folksinger with a generous heart and an impressive array of interests, including encouraging younger artists, theatre attendance, knitting, reading, and cooking) has a section on her website of recipes you can cook while you're sleeping. It's an interesting concept, no? Anyone have any other ideas along this line?

One of the most recent issues of Cooks Illustrated tested vanillas and found that imitation vanilla actually tastes better than real vanilla (I'm too tired to reproduce the full explanation)

In Norway, they sell waffles (often heart-shaped) at stands on the street, and people just eat them outside. I liked that. The waffles have a different taste (cardamom, I think), and they really do make a great snack food.

15 April 2006

Seder 3, Informal, and Various Holiday Miscellany

Welcome to readers stopping by from Blogging for Books!

A few more bullets to round out this holiday weekend.
  • Our toddler seder turned out quite nicely, although two (of the planned four) families couldn't make it--one overbooked and the other had stomach flu. We had some more elaborate plans (pre-dinner craft, for example) but when it got down to the two host families, we decided just to skip the craft and get into dinner, and it was a relaxed experience. Curious Girl and the 19 month old son-of-hosts were just as happy to play with the available toys as to do a Passover craft, so we decided to save the edible craft concept for another year. Curious Girl ran to get our bag of musical instruments after Miriam's cup, so that everyone had an instrument to play while we were singing "Miriam's Song." We'd planned to do something with various props for plagues, but opted to read the play in "A Night of Questions" instead. It was a great afternoon/early evening meal, with lots of singing, and good conversation, and good food.
  • Homemade gefilte fish is really, really, really good. As is dark chocolate from Brussels. And Sephardic haroset. We enjoyed our friends' cooking. And they seemed to like ours (we made matzoh ball soup and a matzoh/potato/spinach/ricotta casserole).
  • Politica is developing an argument that Passover dietary restrictions would make a lot more sense if foods that took a long time to make were prohibited. No roasts, for instance.
  • The edible craft was going to be a personalized seder plate with a duck made from a hardboiled egg and various trimmings: a radish head, pepper wings and tail, parsley bed, etc. When I was getting the hardboiled eggs ready in the morning, I wondered how long to boil the eggs for. I don't like hardboiled eggs, and I never cook them, but I had a vague sense that boiling too long can make eggs rubbery, or something. So I googled a recipe for hardboiled eggs, feeling really lame as I did so. I mean, I think of myself as a good cook, and there I was, googling "hard boiled egg recipe." However, I felt less lame when I discovered that Julia Child's approach to hard boiled eggs involves several steps and movement between hot and cold water. And then I practically puffed with pride--although I blushed, at the same time--when our friends said, "how long do you boil your eggs? These are really good!" So maybe I"m not so lame.
  • When we got to Elijah's cup, Curious Girl said, "We looked for Elijah at the other seders but he didn't come. I think maybe he'll come this time." Then at the door, she said "No Elijah."
  • We went to a garage sale on Saturday and found a CG-sized basket, which got a good workout at not one but two Easter egg hunts. Any excuse for chocolate is a good one in CG's book, and while many other parents were worrying that their kids were eating too much candy, Politica and I were reveling in the fact that we now have a daughter who voluntarily eats.
  • A Night of Questions is a very nice hagaddah--with great accompanying CD, which we played so that people whose child have not been obsessed with this CD for the past 6 months could still sing along OK--but its "less is more" seder plan is a little short on the actual story. Our friends had attended a seder earlier in the week that used another hagaddah containing a play which gave some good attention to Yocheved. When they get the name of it I'll post more about it.
  • Last year, our friends' seder included a third blessing for the matzah: Blessed are you, source of life, who gives us cheerios when we are too young to eat matzah (appropriate for those who haven't yet started to eat wheat, as was the case for son-of-hosts last year).
  • The World's Best (Former) Babysitter came to town for the weekend. Today we all went to the art museum to walk in the woods (and CG and I ran barefoot on the grass, and did forward rolls, and then we all played hide and seek. CG gets so excited about hiding that she yells "hello!" so that whoever's finding will see what a great place she found to hide). At a fountain on the grounds, a nice butch/femme couple asked CG if she wanted a coin to make a wish, and she took their quarter, closed her eyes, tossed it into the fountain, and said "I wished that The World's Best (Former) Babysitter could stay forever." We all melted. It's been wonderful to see just how very, very happy CG is to see her again.
And, in an unrelated-to-the-weekend matter, I just have to brag on my sister, who is running in her third Boston Marathon to benefit a children's cancer charity. There are so many children in so much need, and I'm so proud of my sister for her running, and for her decision to learn to run a marathon in order to be able to run for charity. There are more kids in need in the world--see Annika's Internet Insurance Policy for another wonderful display of people
coming together to help a wonderful girl, or Mieke's posts about her participation in the Great Strides walk for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation on behalf of her friend Elise's daughter Adelaide. Curious Girl and I donated to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation this weekend at a garage sale run by a friend who's also doing the Great Strides walk on behalf of one of her sons.

14 April 2006

Seder 2, Cooperatively

More bullets:
  • I'm really enjoying all the comments on Passover posts here, at Phantom's, at Elswhere's and other blogs. I wish we could have a Pixie Seder--it would have great discussion, something which has been a bit lacking at our two seders so far, which have rushed through the haggadahs without much spontaneous discussion (although we did have a nice discussion about the origins of the orange on the seder plate and generational feminism on the first night. That was good.) Maybe we could write a Pixie Haggadah next year (in all our collective spare time!).
  • Friend in Need of a Pseudonym created an awesome afikoman game for last night. We had 12 or 13 children, and she hid a piece of afikoman for each. Each afikoman bag had several post-it notes, and the three youngest children (which included Curious Girl) had the job of sorting the notes by color. Then they each got to be team captains, and each team had a task. CG's team had to sort words into a sentence: what are the meanings of Passover? The other two teams, with older teammates, had to sort letters into words that answered the question: compassion, freedom, food, and culture. Everyone got a great afikoman gift--CG is quite thrilled with a small bag of candy and her Hello Kitty coloring and activity book.
  • I adapted our first night host's invitation to let everyone help tell the story. That was a great way to encourage people to pool what they remembered about Jacob, and Joseph, and the famine and dreams and Moses and whatnot. CG piped up with several details, and again had some big reactions to the stories. Before her baby Moses obsession, she was full of questions about Joseph (this after seeing about 10 minutes of the Donny Osmond version of J. and the Technicolor Dreamcoat at a neighbor's. She's no slouch in the memory and imagination department.). So when one of the big kids remembered that the other brothers put blood on Joseph's coat, she said "OH! that was sad."
  • I added some cheesy Passover songs to the routine for last night, and "Take Me Out to the Seder" was a fun introduction to the evening (after I read a Passover picture book to set the mood). The older kids really got into the singing this year, and Falcon Claw had learned the blessing over wine and was very proud to read the blessings over the second and fourth cups. It was really hard to hear, and attentions were waning at different rates, but I think people at each of the three tables had a nice time, and it was nice to see more kids reading from the haggadah and more kids trying more foods.
  • It was a very long evening, due to some logistical disasters with the chicken and late decisions about table placements and seating arrangements. We sat down to dinner at 8:30 and the afikoman hunt was at 10:30. CG was falling asleep on the way to the seder, and probably would have stayed asleep for the night. But she (and all the kids, really) were really great and stayed in good tempers all night. Tonight, I want to eat dinner really, really early.
  • We've had a pretty soggy Passover experience so far, and unfortunately I'm not just talking about the spring thunderstorms, or the punch that spilled all over my seat just as we were sitting down to dinner that resulting in several 3 year olds scrambling to find me pillows to put on my seat so I wasn't sitting on wetness (and then made all of them want pillows, too). All that grape juice late at night is creating the need to change CG's sheets in the wee hours of the morning. Note to self: next time, leave clean sheets near the bed, and buy a second extra moisture-absorbing pad so that laundry isn't immediately necessary to get the bed set back up, and leave a clean set of PJs out, too, so that CG isn't outraged in the morning when she wakes all the way up without PJs on. Note to parents of two-ish-year olds: next year, organize potty runs before the afikoman hunt, since who really wants to stop to go potty in the midst of all that fun. Note to self: pack extra underwear, and bring it into our hosts' houses so I don't need to run outside to get it.
  • CG has announced she wants to have a seder at our house tonight. Translation: I want to hunt for more afikoman. And since we are nothing if not accommodating at the Granola household, we're going to light candles, sing a few songs (since she is ever so adorable singing "Where is baby Moses, Moses, Moses, where is baby Moses, in the River Nile") and let her hunt for more afikoman.
  • The toddler seder tomorrow starts at 3:00. That should be plenty of time for the grape juice to get absorbed before bed. Yay!
  • This morning at breakfast, CG wanted me to the be Princess! who picks up Baby Moses! The baby grew in her tummy, she said. Then Moses became a girl and she wanted to name the baby Kiki, and we were both the mamas, and Mommy could be a mama with us when she woke up. A baby floating in the river can't have too many mamas. I'm still thinking about Yocheved, and CG is still thinking about the baby who needs someone to pick him up in the river.
Our fabulous former babysitter arrived here around 1 a.m. for a spontaneous visit home from far-away-city-with-first-job. She lived with us for the summer before she left for her senior year abroad, and she still stays here when she comes back to town (CG still calls the guest room "fabulous babysitter's room"). We love seeing her, and CG was so very excited when she woke up this morning to see that we had a beloved guest. So I'm going off to chat with her and Politica.

13 April 2006

Seder I: Traditional

A few bullets, a la Phantom, about Passover so far:
  • Curious Girl and I had a very nice time last night at a traditional seder: our hosts had written their own haggadah (and yes, Phantom, even if you have to host the family, it will be better to have your own haggadah than the Maxwell house one, which I have to admit to never having read it, but I believe all the criticisms of it I've ever seen). There were a good number of children, the hosts are excellent and vegetarian cooks, and the hagaddah had music in it so the musically-inclined guests could at least learn melodies and sing along. CG survived the disappointment of not finding the afikoman (at her preschool, the teacher had hid enough pieces of matzah for everyone to find one, so she found the notion of there being only a single piece of matzah to find rather hard to process). Still, the roll of Pesach stickers she got was lots of fun.
  • CG gasped at several points during the story part of the seder, which was cool to see. That was bad! or The baby might die! were a couple of her comments. The hosts invited us all to contribute to telling the story, and people chimed in as they were so moved. It was a neat and participatory way to tell the story, and most of the narrative was carried by the 7 year old son of the hosts.
  • I am really thinking hard about Yocheved this year. She's Moses' mother, and many of the haggadahs--especially those with an interest in children--mention that Miriam arranged for Yocheved to nurse Moses after Pharoah's daughter (the PRINCESS! Curious Girl keeps saying. Princesses are very interesting to four year olds) finds him in the bulrushes. This is usually presented as a reasonably perky and clever move on Miriam's part, which it is, I suppose. But I wonder about the pain it would cause a mother to see her child floating down the river, picked up by another woman. As my last entry indicates, we're doing a lot of talking about birth mothers and adoptive mothers and preganancy and baby-care-taking these days. And I am thinking about Yocheved, and what it would take to make a world in which more women--more parents--could care better for their children.
  • Politica and I thought this was a pretty interesting read on dietary restrictions and the meaning of Passover.
  • Politica's award-winning shingles are preventing her from going out to Seder 2 (large, energetic, with unconventional haggadah written by me and Politica) this evening. But CG and I are heading out, and I'll let you know about this one tomorrow.
Happy holidays to all who are celebrating them this week(end)!

10 April 2006

Someone Who Might Have Brown Eyes

This is my entry for April's Blogging for Books, which will be judged by YA author E. Lockhart, whose new book Fly on the Wall is the inspiration for the contest's theme:
I want you to use the book's title as a jumping off place. You can use the words 'a fly on the wall' in your essay, you can use the words to jump to writing about homilies or cliches or Kafka or transformation, you can write about eavesdropping or being eavesdropped upon or a time when you haved like to be a fly on the wall---There are a THOUSAND ways to go with this, so don't be afraid to think outside the box.

We talk a lot at our house. One of the maternal responsibilities I take great joy in is narrating the world for Curious Girl. I started with small statements: Hello, Little Girl. You’re beautiful. I’m so glad to see you. I’m going to be your Mama. This is Mommy. What do you think about that? And then moved beyond the immediate: Cat. This is The Cat with the Best Disposition Ever. Cats need gentle. Open palms. Good job! Or Look! A white truck! I talked to CG even before she could understand me, hoping to convey with my tone what words could not yet: I’m here, I’ll help you make your way through the world. Join me, and let’s explore.

Adoptive parents have a special responsibility to help children narrate themselves. Curious Girl was born across the ocean, and she has no conscious memories of her birth family or birth country. Goodnight, my friends in the orphanage! She called as she went off to bed tonight and some pictures from her orphanage floated across my computer screen. But she doesn’t really remember. She knows what we tell her, and what she sees around the house: photos of the three of us on the day we met, photos of the three of us after we were a family, photos of us touring together before we flew home, souvenirs from her homeland, the adoption scrapbook which narrates our adoption process (it starts with preadoption paperwork and ends after our first summer as a family), the lifebook which narrates her life (it starts with her birth and ends with description of how she’s growing so very big).

Narrating her life is an awesome responsibility, and a tricky one, for it’s her life, not mine. I don’t want to take over her story; I want to give her the ability to tell her own story. And so we talk about adoption often. We have various books—Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born, A Mother for Choco, I Love You Like Crazy Cakes, Felicia’s Favorite Story—that raise adoption issues, and we talk about her life. You were born over here, I say, as we look at a map placemat. You grew in U.’s tummy. Maybe she has brown eyes, like you do. Maybe she likes to dance. Maybe she is very curious about the world, because some of the way we are comes from our parents.

So far, so good. Curious Girl was still two when she was able to tell people where she was born, and she took great interest in looking at pictures of herself in her orphanage or with us around the time of the adoption. She’d make up little stories—I crying, I cold—and largely focused on what she knew: Mama, Mommy, and Curious Girl. Around the time she turned three I finished her lifebook, which includes virtually all the information we have about her birth mother and father, as well as information about her home country and town, her orphanage, and her--how big she was at birth, her new family, her medical problems, the people who helped her solve her feeding problems, her passions and personality. We’d told her the names of her first family, and she remembers them. She doesn’t always linger on the original family pages in the lifebook (the book about when I was a baby, she calls it). She prefers photos of herself to a page of words with no pictures. She’s a typical almost-four-year old, thinking more about herself than other people. But she does think about the people who gave her life. Every now and then, she'll suddenly reveal a little bit of this thinking, and I am invariably surprised, proud, challenged, and amazed to suddenly be in a position to peek into her inner thoughts.

Is S. dead? She asked, all of a sudden, during brunch with friends. People are always surprised that she knows her birth father’s name (or what we think is his name—we tell her we think it’s true, but we’re not sure.) Another day, as she was laying in bed, trying to fall asleep, she rolled over and said, I’m thinking of someone with an S. "S like Susan?" I asked. No….I’m thinking of someone who might have brown eyes, she said. "Ah, your birth parents," I said, "are you thinking about S.?" Yes. Is he dead? "I don’t know, sweetie." What about U.? Is she dead? Again, "I don’t know." I growed in her tummy. She’s not dead. I eated her dinner! When I was in her tummy, she eated her dinner, and then I eated it all up! " That’s right, honey, when babies are growing inside their mothers, they get food from what their mothers eat. And that’s what you did inside U."

Another night, she had a conversation with Cinderella (who’s on one of her nightgowns). Do you have a baby? "No," said Cinderella (with some help from me). I have a baby inside me, explained Curious Girl, who frequently pretends to have a baby or be pregnant. Did your baby growed in you? Cinderella said she didn’t have a baby yet, and she didn’t know if she had a baby whether it would grow in her or be adopted. She didn’t know. I grewed inside U’s tummy and when I was born she couldn’t take care of me so she putted me in a hospital and I didn’t have an operation. That’s just the language I use: "when you were born, U. couldn’t take care of a baby, so she made sure you were somewhere safe, with food to eat and doctors to take care of you. You were very little and needed people to take care of you." Curious Girl is retelling the story I’ve given her.

This morning, when I was dozing and she was not-so-patiently sort of entertaining herself while I tried to get going, she asked where I grew. Inside Nana, I told her. Where did her cousin grow? Inside her aunt. A few minutes later, she asked Why Aunt C. could take care of a baby when Elder Cousin was born but not when I was born U.? That got me awake in an instant. I drew on language Politica and I have talked about countless times as we prepared for--and reacted to--conversations about her past. When people have babies, they might need help. Uncle D. was there to help Aunt C., and they had a house with room for a baby, and they could take the baby to the doctor, and they had plenty of food to eat. Maybe U. didn’t have anyone to help her, or maybe she didn’t have enough food to eat. Her curiousity piqued, CG started riffing on more reasons why someone couldn’t take care of a baby, none of which made any literal sense. She soon meandered off into some other game with her stuffed animals, but not before she told me that she wanted to be borned in my tummy, that she didn’t want to be borned in U. With that, CG was done talking. She had a new game going, thank you very much. I’ll find a way to circle back to what she might have meant by wishing she were born in me in the coming weeks.

The fact is, I don’t know why U. couldn’t take care of a baby. I don’t know whether S. was there with her when CG was born. I don’t know what they look like—although I can guess, looking at CG’s big brown eyes, that one of them has big brown eyes, too. And I don’t know what they are like—although I can guess, looking at my daughter, that maybe they like to sing, or love animals, or are easy to get along with. But then, maybe not: every family has its oddballs, and not all our traits are so easily mapped to our parents. I just don’t know.

I do know that CG’s parents relinquished parental rights very early, and she lived in institutions for several months before she was available to adoption, first by citizens of her home country, and then by non-citizens. Sitting here in my comfortable house, I can’t know what it’s like for new parents in another country who choose to relinquish their parental rights. I have a financial cushion, I have a supportive family, I have a wonderful partner, I have a steady job. My world is predictable. And all that means I can parent with a lot of help. But the world in which CG’s first family lives is not that world. It’s economically more chaotic, politically less stable, socially more fragile. It’s a world in which tens of thousands of children—maybe close to a million—are in some kind of state care, and in which many mothers relinquish more than one child. I don’t know how to explain that to Curious Girl. I’ll find the ways, eventually, as she gets older, of course, but sometimes the enormity of it all overwhelms me. I can read histories and social science studies, I can gain insight into the culture via literature and memoir and news reports, but I probably can’t ever know just how these big social trends play out in the lives of the two people who came together and created Curious Girl. I can explain the big picture, but the family portrait is cloudy.

I just don’t know. What I would give for just one glimpse into U.’s life, so I could tell Curious Girl what U. looks like, or how she moves. So I could tell her what U.’s life is like, so I could tell her something more than “She couldn’t take care of a baby.” I’ll probably never have that glimpse, and so instead, I tell stories. I am very careful to label facts as fact, guesses as guesses. But in my stories, I make room for CG to imagine her birth mother, to make her real. And as I lay next to my girl and get glimpses into her inner life, I know that S. and U. are real to her. She thinks about them, and she tells me she dreams about them sometimes. And in her dreams, I hope she can see them clearly. I’ll never know for sure what CG is thinking, and neither my questions nor hers about her mother and father will be answered fully. But we talk, and we dream, and use our words to make spaces for imaginings (maginates, she would say), insights, emotions. And that’s as close as we can come to knowing about the decision that has so shaped all of our lives.

08 April 2006

A Book Meme

As seen at Andrea's Decomposition and Phantom's, among others (they drew it from Turtlebella, a nice new-to-me blog, and she drew it from My So-Called ABD Life) : A book meme

Instructions: Bold the ones you've read. Italicize the ones you've been wanting/might like to read. ??Place question marks by any titles/authors you've never heard of?? Put an asterisk if you've read something else by the same author.

*Alcott, Louisa May--Little Women
Allende, Isabel--The House of Spirits is there a special category for books you've learned tons about via supervising students in independent studies but haven't actually read yourself? This one falls there for me.
*Angelou, Maya--I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
*Atwood, Margaret--Cat's Eye
*Austen, Jane--Emma
Bambara, Toni Cade--Salt Eaters
Barnes, Djuna--Nightwood one of my best friends in college read this and loved it. It's been on my to-read list ever since.
Beauvoir, Simone--The Second Sex
*Blume, Judy--Are You There God? It's Me Margaret Phantom's version of this post references a great post by Dani about whether or not this book should be updated, and I felt really, really old reading the posts about how it was other people's mothers who used sanitary napkin pads and belts. My own mother was so sheltered that she didn't really know much about tampons, and consequently I didn't learn about tampons until I went to college in the fall of 1980. Very odd.
Burnett, Frances--The Secret Garden
*Bronte, Charlotte--Jane Eyre
*Bronte, Emily--Wuthering Heights
Buck, Pearl S.--The Good Earth
Byatt, A.S.--Possessionanother book on my to-read list, although I have to confess I was comforted by Phantom's confession that she's been bored silly by other Byatt books, as I've not been able to get into her other work very much.
Cather, Willa--My Antonia I didn't enjoy this, though; I read it in a grad seminar I wasn't having fun in
*Chopin, Kate--The Awakening
*Christie, Agatha--Murder on the Orient Express
Cisneros, Sandra--The House on Mango Street
*Clinton, Hillary Rodham--Living History Does reading political speeches count as reading other stuff by same author?
??Cooper, Anna Julia--A Voice From the South??
??Danticat, Edwidge==Breath, Eyes, Memory
Davis, Angela--Women, Culture, and Politics I only bolded part becasue I've only read excerpts
??Desai, Anita--Clear Light of Day??
*Dickinson, Emily--Collected Poems
Duncan, Lois--I Know What You Did Last Summer I can't believe this book is on a list! That said, I spent a lot of time in high school reading Victoria Holt novels, so I do appreciate a good gothic thriller, and that's not so far removed.
*DuMaurier, Daphne--Rebecca There is a street on the north side of my city named Manderly Drive, and I have got to assume that the developer who named it hasn't ever read this book.
*Eliot, George--Middlemarch
??Emecheta, Buchi--Second Class Citizen??
*Erdrich, Louise--Tracks I took a class in college with her sister, and an aerobics class with her husband--brushes with greatness!
Esquivel, Laura--Like Water for Chocolate
Flagg, Fannie---Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe The book is way better than the movie, and the movie is very good
Friedan, Betty---The Feminine Mystique
Frank, Anne--Diary of a Young Girl
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins--The Yellow Wallpaper
*Gordimer, Nadine---July's People
*Grafton, Sue---S is for Silence Why start with S when the series has been going downhill since sometime earlier in the alphabet?
Hamilton, Edith---Mythology
Highsmith, Patricia---The Talented Mr. Ripley I thought the movie was way too bleak. I like happy things in fiction and film.
*hooks, bell---Bone Black*
*Hurston, Zora Neale--Dust Tracks on the Road Their Eyes Were Watching God is one of my favorite novels
Jacobs, Harriet--Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Jackson, Helen Hunt--Ramona I have a real fondness for 19th century women's fiction. Anyone else love The Wide, Wide World?
*Jackson, Shirley--The Haunting of Hill House The Lottery--a great short story
Jong, Erica--Fear of Flying
Keene, Carolyn--The Nancy Drew Mysteries of course! and Cherry Ames, and Trixie Belden. I loved series books when I was a kid. Still do, come to think of it.
Kidd, Sue Monk--The Secret Life of Bees
*Kincaid, Jamaica--Lucy
Kingsolver, Barbara--The Poisonwood Bible
Kingston, Maxine Hong--The Woman Warrior
??Larsen, Nella--Passing??
L'Engle, Madeleine--A Wrinkle in Time
*Le Guin, Ursula K.--The Left Hand of Darkness
Lee, Harper--To Kill a Mockingbird
Lessing, Doris--The Golden Notebook

Mitchell, Margaret--Gone with the Wind

Montgomery, Lucy Maud--Anne of Green Gables
??Morgan, Joan--When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost??
*Morrison, ToniĆ¢--Song of Solomon*
Murasaki, Lady Shikibu--The Tale of Genji This is another one of those books I've read a lot of essays about without ever reading, and having read enough essays feel that enough of the plot is revealed that I don't want to read it.
Munro, Alice--Lives of Girls and Women
Murdoch, Iris--Severed Head
Naylor, Gloria--Mama Day
Niffenegger, Audrey--The Time Traveller's Wife
*Oates, Joyce Carol--We Were the Mulvaneys I've tried to like Oates, but just can't get into her work.
O'Connor, Flannery--A Good Man is Hard to Find
Piercy, Marge--Woman on the Edge of Time As you can tell from my Friday poetry blogging, I'm a Piercy fan
Picoult, Jodi--My Sister's Keeper
*Plath, Sylvia--The Bell Jar
*Porter, Katharine Anne--Ship of Fools
Proulx, E. Annie--The Shipping News
Rand, Ayn--The Fountainhead
*Ray, Rachel--365: No Repeats* Why on earth is this book here? The Rombauer's Joy of Cooking is a far better cookbook--and Susan Leonardi's 1989 PMLA article "recipes for reading" makes a great introduction to what's so fun about reading cookbooks. Yes, I really am using "fun" to modify "PMLA article"--check it out yourself if you don't believe me!
Rhys, Jean--Wide Sargasso Sea And I also love Jane Eyre
Robinson, Marilynne--Housekeeping A book I want to like, but never do.
?Rocha, Sharon--For Laci?
Sebold, Alice--The Lovely Bones This just sounds too sad for me.
Shelley, Mary--Frankenstein
Smith, Betty--A Tree Grows in Brooklyn I love, love, love this book.
?Smith, Zadie--White Teeth?
Spark, Muriel--The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Spyri, Johanna--Heidi
?Strout, Elizabeth--Amy and Isabelle
*Steel, Danielle--The Housefor all I know I have read this one--her books run together for me. I've read some on vacation but couldnt say which one(s).
Tan, Amy--The Joy Luck Club
*Tannen, Deborah--You're Wearing That*
Ulrich, Laurel--A Midwife's Tale
Urquhart, Jane--Away
*Walker, Alice--The Temple of My Familiar*
*Welty, Eudora--One Writer's Beginnings
*Wharton, Edith--Age of Innocence
*Wilder, Laura Ingalls--Little House in the Big Woods
Wollstonecraft, Mary
--A Vindication of the Rights of Women
*Woolf, Virginia--A Room of One's Own
(plus her fiction, too, of course)

The discussion at Phantom's is utterly wonderful and has great suggestions for people who have been omitted from a list of interesting women writers, including some I'd have added if I'd been more on the ball with commenting of late: Margaret Laurence, Dorothy Sayers, P.D. James, Georgette Heyer (not high culture but I sure loved those books when I was in high school and junior high), Aphra Behn, Adrienne Rich, Susan Cooper.

07 April 2006

A Poem, and a Bonus Bumper Sticker

Looking about for a poem for this week, I noticed this one, and it reminded me of Songbird, whose (poetic) contributions to Phantom's Wednesday Whine this week were about her husband's extended absence. So while I meant to keep going to the May Sarton books, here's instead something by Minnie Bruce Pratt, from We Say We Love Each Other. May time fly for any of you who are missing your partners tonight.
"In a Solitary Place"

I was going to write to you about romance:
since I have thought it a mirage, to love another
out of need, to let an angle of light, some distance,
old thirsts, spill her, a pool of water on the horizon:

since I have loved you and, as we neared, as illusions
dispersed, begun to see what I had not noticed
or had not imagined, the flame, emerald green, flashed
by the sun just after it sets, just before it rises

But tonight the continent stretches between us,
flat grey sand. I haven't touched you in weeks,
won't be able to for more, have been in meetings
all day with others who are depressed, drunk three cups
of coffee, half a glass of beer, touched myself roughly,
come with salt bitter tears, don't feel hopeful.

I want to be glad now in my solitary place,
to be able to call up green grass from my day's desert.
I know your absence does not keep me from this, but I know
your glance and hand would be for me lighting at night.

And, a bonus bumper sticker, which I spotted at a great neighborhood restaurant Curious Girl and I ate in following the monthly groovy Shabbat service, which we attended with some neighbor-friends. Politica is largely incapacitated at the moment with a painful rash, so CG and I are trying to stay out of the house enough to give Politica some quiet healing space, without being gone so much that CG gets upset. So far we're managing OK, and tonight's dinner was a wonderful discovery of a neighborhood place that's really trying to be a community center. There was a folk singer playing this evening, and as she left, I saw on her guitar:

Taxation without the right to marry is tyranny.

Politica just rattled off a list of helpful places fighting for marriage rights:
So whether you're planning a politically active weekend, a cozy weekend, a weekend with your honey or without, best wishes for some rest and relaxation. Shabbat shalom.

02 April 2006

Garden Stories

Jo(e) wrote yesterday about the plants in her six-year-old garden:
The first year we lived here, Red-haired Sister brought me forsythia bushes, clumps of perennials, and baby pine trees from her own yard 250 miles away. The day lilies and the peonies came from Blonde Sister, from the yard of the house that once belonged to my grandmother. The coreopsis, the daffodils, and the lily of the valley come from my parents’ house, the home of my childhood. The white pines are transplanted from the woods at camp .... The rhubarb plants come from a neighbor, who taught my kids to dip rhubarb stalks into sugar and eat them raw.
This got me thinking about the people who've contributed to my own garden, which is very badly in need of maintenance right now. We've been adding to the gardens since we bought the house in 1995, and have generally been pleased with the development, but five months of construction has taken its toll: the shade garden by the driveway is currently covered with debris, although the toilet and sink which will eventually come back into our main bathroom are sitting there, too. The sun garden by the front door, which we put in during our second summer, seems to have survived a winter with the roofers' truck bed parked on it, and it's hard to know what's going on in the vegetable beds with all the construction stuff between the house and the back end of the yard. But I don't need to be able to see the plants in order to tell their stories.

The lilac bush back there was planted by my neighbor-colleagues; it just wasn't growing in their yard, and so they gave it to us--dug it up, walked it down the street and planted it--as a welcome gift for Curious Girl in the spring after she came to us. The hostas in the shade garden --the ones I'm hoping are biding their time under all that debris--came from several friends, including Local Friend, a wonderful gardener who was the grandmother of one of the girls in my girl scout troop when I first moved here. We became marvelous friends and it was a great thing to get to know someone who'd lived in this city for a long time. She has five children and tons of grandchildren (some of whom are CG's age) and the friendship between our families has been a marvelous thing. I think of her when I see the variegated hosta coming up, and when our black-eyed Susans bloom, and when many of her herbs start up. She gave me those, too, as well as some irises which she dug up from their camp down in the southern part of the state. The irises grow wild there, probably left over from a house long tumbled.

But irises. There's another story to the rest of the irises. When Politica was first out of graduate school, we flirted with moving to another university, one where she had a job. I went for a year as a visiting professor and we ended up with two sets of job offers, and ultimately decided to come back here to Our Fair City. But we made wonderful friends in Other University Town, one of whom was a formidable iris gardener. He asked me, "Do you want a few irises?" when we were getting ready to leave town and making our goodbyes. "Sure," I said, picturing a small bag. He sent us home with probably 60 rhizomes, each carefully labeled with a name. Unfortunately in the 3 day drive back here, some of the rhizomes got moldy and moisture ruined the names, and then I didn't carefully mark them all anyway in the ground and only some of them came up. But I love the ones that do: tall and short, single colored and multi-colored. And I love the connection to a far-away town and a far-away friend and the memories of time spent in his beautiful garden.

One of my friends, who used to teach here, was amazed by the gardening generosity of people in my department. As soon as she came to town, people were offering her plants. It's a way we have of getting people settled and building ties (I have coral bells from one colleague, who moved into a new house and thus had all new plants to divide and share, and coreopsis from another, who was on the search committee that hired me and is now a neighbor). Gardening for me is definitely a way of building ties. I do buy some plants from nurseries if I have a particular idea of what I want to do, but I like the way that making decisions about how to shape and beautify my land makes me part of the land (another colleague and I stopped at a nursery on the way home from a conference and I bought tiny, weak, on-sale-in-May spreading phlox. In six years it's gained strength and is now a splendid display on a rock wall.) As my garden has grown, I've felt more connected to, more at home in, this part of the US that will never feel totally home to me. With Politica, I've reshaped the vegetable garden (using square-foot gardening ), invited friends to help us dig up grass to put in flowers, and learned new ways to make new gardens (basically, don't dig up the grass. Cover it with newspaper, several layers, and then dump top soil and mulch on top of that. Cut through the paper to plant anything you want, and the paper and mulch/soil will kill the grass below. Way easier than digging up grass, and it's way easier to learn that by reading here than by experience. Trust me.) We met a lot of our neighbors as we converted a hard-to-mow sloping lawn into a sunny garden, and we met a lot of people who liked watching Curious Girl "help" me with lawn mowing and gardening. Gardening and children attract company, and I like that.

And of course, our gardening choices reflect our activities. We grow a lot of basil and tomatoes and herbs. We grow lettuce early and beans later. We try to grow zucchini every year, and, "Attack of the Squash People" notwithstanding, our zucchini always gets eaten by a little garden beastie. Last year we got farther than ever, but still, no zukes for us. But we had plenty of produce in our yard, and Politica and Curious Girl are fabulous harvesters. The summer after Politica's mother died, she (who thought she couldn't garden) took solace in creating a vegetable garden in the front garden of our rental duplex. Into tomatoes and basil she poured her sadness, and learned that she could make things grow. It's been a pleasure to watch her becoming a more confident and ambitious gardener.

I've recreated ties to other gardens with my choices here. I try to grow marigolds every year because they were the favorite flower of a friend of mine who died far too young. I remember her when they bloom. I planted pachysandra becasue it reminded me of the border plants my mother had on the side of our house. Politica often likes portulaca because her mother planted it, and we like so many of the plants that friends here have donated or advised us about. Our wall lining the back beds was inspired by one our neighbors did, and we've traded plants back and forth. Our gardens are a community resource, telling stories of our pasts, and tracing our connections.

What stories do your gardens tell?