Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Excuses, Excuses

You may have noticed that I've been a bit spotty about posting lately. It's not laziness or a lack of motivation--I'm constantly composing in my head; it just never makes it to the computer. Charlotte is now in physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy--in addition to her regular class. Then there's the holiday shopping, baking and cleaning to do. To top it off, we've all been sick, off and on, since Halloween. So I've been a wee bit busy. All good reasons, but probably the larger reason is that I'm in week five of a new medication, that, in addition to stabilizing my moods, is also supposed to have a really good anti-depressant effect. Tick tock, still waiting.

You would think that after almost 10 years of being on medication I would be able to accept the fact that they don't work overnight. And this one in particular has to start at a really low dose and then creep up over five to six weeks. Why? Because the one worrisome side-effect is a rash that can be severe, even fatal if left untreated. But it's usually on the face (oh, joy), so it's fairly easy to spot and treat early. So while we search for the proper therapeutic dose, I'm still taking two other medications as well as an occasional anti-anxiety (not good to mix with wine, by the way. Take it a few hours before, not just a few minutes). Our medicine cabinet looks like a little pharmacy and I'm feeling a bit tired and lethargic. So that's my excuse. Such as it is.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

They May Be Sisters But . . .

At this moment, Hannah is in her room, dancing her own version of ballet to the soundtrack from Les Choristes.

Charlotte is in the living room, dancing to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Holiday Photo Outtakes

Hannah hamming it up.

Well I got one of them to look at me!

Hannah wondering why Charlotte gets to ride the horse
(because it was the only way to keep her from running away).

My Sappy Holiday Spirit

I've been sitting here for the past few days listening to Christmas music--the classical Christmas channel on XM radio and one of the local channels in the car. Hannah insisted and I was happy to oblige. After all, one can only listen to Talk of the Nation so many days in a row before one's kids loses it.

Anyway, back to the music. It reminds me both just how much I dreaded the holidays when I was a kid and how much I look forward to them now. I think I've mentioned before that I came without filters installed: I have a difficult time blocking out noise, other people's emotions, the weave of a particular fabric, and so on. I may have also mentioned that I have five brothers, two sisters--all of whom I love dearly--and, shall we say, emotionally distant parents. None of which make for a calm, relaxing holiday season. Every year, without fail, I ended up with a heavy cold over winter break. Coincidence? I think not.

But now. Now I get to experience the season all over through Hannah and Charlotte. We go decorated-house hunting after school. We've hung a wreath on the front door and another over the fireplace. The tree is up and decorated--except for the lower 1/4 which Charlotte keeps stripping--and Hannah has been revising her list for Santa since her birthday in October. I am resisting the urge to dress the house from top to bottom in pine garlands and white lights. But I am baking batches of gingerbread cookies so the house always smells holiday-ish.

But I never know what to say when people ask "What would you like for Christmas?" There's nothing I really need--except the occasional babysitter and a night out--and the things I might want are entirely impractical. Nice clothes? They don't mix well with paint, playdoh and markers. Books? I adore them, but rarely have time to read anymore. Sticktoitiveness? Sure, but does that come in a bottle yet? And the things I really want can't be gifted: I want Charlotte to lose the stiffness in her body and be able to dance the way she so clearly wants to. I want Hannah to keep being the wonderful little person and big sister that she is. I don't want either of them to grow up too fast. And I want them to always know that I love them more than I ever could have imagined.

So whadda you think, Santa Baby? Can you help me out?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Cowboy Wisdom

Courtesy of my friend Jessica:

A Montana cowboy was overseeing his herd in a remote mountainous pasture when suddenly a brand-new BMW advanced out of a dust cloud towards him. The driver, a young man in a Brioni suit, Gucci shoes, Ray Ban sunglasses and YSL tie, leans out the window and asks the cowboy, "If I tell you exactly how many cows and calves you have in your herd, will you give me a calf?"

The cowboy looks at the man, obviously a yuppie, then looks at his peacefully grazing herd and calmly answers,"Sure, Why not?"

The yuppie parks his car, whips out his Dell notebook computer, connects it to his Cingular RAZR V3 cell phone, and surfs to a NASA page on the Internet, where he calls up a GPS satellite navigation system to get an exact fix on his location which he then feeds to another NASA satellite that scans the area in an ultra-high-resolution photo. The young man then opens the digital photo in Adobe Photoshop and exports it to an image processing facility in Hamburg, Germany.

Within seconds, he receives an email on his Palm Pilot that the image has been processed and the data stored. He then accesses a MS-SQL database through an ODBC connected Excel spreadsheet with email on his Blackberry and, after a few minutes, receives a response.

Finally, he prints out a full-color, 150-page report on his hi-tech, miniaturized HP LaserJet printer and finally turns to the cowboy and says, "You have exactly 1,586 cows and calves."

"That's right. Well, I guess you can take one of my calves," says the cowboy.

He watches the young man select one of the animals and looks on amused as the young man stuffs it into the trunk of his car.

Then the cowboy says to the young man, "Hey, if I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me back my calf?"

The young man thinks about it for a second and then says, "Okay, why not?"

You're a Congressman for the U. S. Government", says the cowboy.

"Wow! That's correct," says the yuppie, "but how did you guess that?"

"No guessing required." answered the cowboy. "You showed up here even though nobody called you; you want to get paid for an answer I already knew, to a question I never asked. You tried to show me how much smarter than me you are; and you don't know a thing about cows...

This is a herd of sheep.

Now give me back my dog."

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Day Without Sun

Some days the sun just seems inappropriate. Loud. Brash. A trying-to-be-cheerful shout in the room of a migraine sufferer. On most days, I love the sun. I crave it. But today I found myself wincing as I thought of Kati Kim and her daughters and how unwelcome the sun must have been. The body of James Kim, their husband and father, was found yesterday, just one mile from where their car was stranded in the mountains of Oregon during a blizzard.

For six days they huddled in the car--mom, dad and two daughters, one four years old, one just seven months. I don't know if I feel such a connection to this story because of our two daughters, or because there were so many times that I've taken a wrong turn, or simply because, put in the same situation, I would hope that I would be strong enough to do what James and Kati Kim did. And they did everything right: They stayed together, Kati nursing both girls to keep them alive; they stayed with the car, using the heater at night until they ran out of gas. During the day, they started fires with magazines, wet wood, and--finally--the car tires, in an attempt to stay warm and to attract attention.

Rescuers found Kati and the girls two days after James left to find help. Then they followed the markers that he dropped along the way: an extra pair of pants, part of a map, a skirt belonging to his daughter. He even had a note with him describing where his family could be found, asking for help. The Oregon police say that James walked a 10 mile loop through the cold and snow, at one point swimming across a stream.

Four days after he left, two days after his family had been rescued, James Kim's body was found. And still the sun dared to shine.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Better Late Than Never . . .

Ask my mother-in-law and she will tell you how truly bad I am about sending new photos of the girls. I've been meaning to post these for awhile now--since before Halloween, actually. But without further ado . . .

Hannah getting Charlotte dressed; it's actually a grass skirt that Thomas brought back from Hawaii, but Hannah thought it would work better as a boa:

And Charlotte in her Halloween costume:

Unfortunately, Charlotte didn't get to go trick-or-treating. I didn't want the "trick" to be spreading germs and green elevens around the neighborhood.

And Charlotte with her first caramel apple:

And yes, she was immediately tossed into the bath. After she finished, of course :)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Is This Blasphemy?

I didn't want Nancy Pelosi to be Speaker of the House. Yes, yes, first female and all that. Yay. But I'm one of those strange people who think that qualifications and ability should also be considered. Been there a long time? Check. Smart, capable? Done great things for California? Check, check, and I think so. Able to reach across party lines to actually get something done in Congress this time around? Um, not so sure about that one.

After the war in Iraq and the Katrina disaster, one of the most-often heard criticisms of the Bush administration was that cronyism was rampant. That Bush favored loyalty over ability. That the administration was awarding no-bid contracts to companies connected to the Vice President. That there was no accountability or oversight.

This is not the time to prove to cynics everywhere that the Democrats are no better. So why did Nancy Pelosi push for John Murtha to be the new House majority leader? Why is she considering giving the chairmanship of the House Select Intelligence Committee to Alcee Hastings of Florida? Reportedly, she doesn't like Jane Harman, considered by many to be the logical and appropriate choice, and wants to give the chair to someone a bit more left-leaning. Ok, a lot more left-leaning. We have an open-ended "war on terror" going on. Is this really the post we want use to play favorites? (One would, of course, hope that ability would always trump popularity, but one then one might be accused of smoking something.)

C'mon Nancy. Do the right thing: Go with the people who have legitimately earned the chairs. Let's not turn Congress back over to the Republicans in two years.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Hat in Hand

'Tis the season to offer thanks and to get in your last minute donations if you want them to count for 2006! With that in mind, I would like to offer an option to those of you who are still looking for the right program to bless with your donation.

Charlotte attends the Infant Program at C.A.R. (Community Association for Rehabilitation) in Palo Alto. About 2500 people benefit from services that include (but are by no means limited to) physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, swim therapy, day care, adult day care, job training and placement for the developmentally disabled--not to mention support for their families. The care and attention they lavish on all of their clients--children and adults--is wonderful to see and has already had a big impact on our family.

When Charlotte started at C.A.R. in July of this year, she was not yet walking or talking. She didn't follow directions or make eye contact when we talked to her. As of today, she is walking like a champ--often almost running. She knows and uses the signs for dog, airplane, eat, bath, more, please, friend, and daddy. She also recognizes the signs for mommy, frog, drink, turtle, and--her favorite--cookie. We're pretty sure she can say "Hannah" and "eat." And today at physical therapy, she said "kick" when asked to kick a ball. (This time I know it's not just wishful thinking, because Lora, our PT, heard it too!)

Seventy five percent of C.A.R.'s funding comes from regional centers as well as state and federal grants. That, of course, leaves quite a chunk that they must make up every year to keep up the quality and number of classes and services. It allows them to buy new equipment and to hire staff--Charlotte was on a waiting list for PT for two months and for speech therapy for four months--we start next Wednesday! We're not sure when she'll get into OT. But in July there were 26 kids ahead of her on the speech therapy list, so we are immensely grateful to get in so soon.

So here's my pitch: If you have a few extra dollars that you would like to donate, by sending it to C.A.R., you could make life just a little better for Charlotte and 2,499 other children and adults. You would also have my eternal gratitude (I'm actually crying as I type this), and the thanks of the 2500 families served by the amazing, wonderful, caring staff at C.A.R. As an added bonus, because C.A.R. is a 501 (c) (3) organization, your donation is tax deductible!

If you would like more information, please send me a private email with your address (makriese at gmail dot com--don't forget to put it in the proper form; I'm trying to keep my spam to a minimum!). I'll send you a packet from C.A.R. If you decide to make a donation, you would just send it directly to them.

Wait, wait, there was one more thing: Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Pity Poop

I think I mentioned before--once or 300 times--that we were having the yard transformed from the hard-packed nutrient-free rock-and-weed-studded mess it was when we moved in. After carting in a couple of tons of dirt, leveling the ground, constructing rock walls, planting trees and shrubs and flowers, and installing irrigation, the transformation is complete. Well, the first phase, anyway--we decided to hold back a little of the budget for the occasional trip to In-n-Out.

Late last week, I was finally able to let the girls play out back while I lovingly raked the #$*&ing leaves from the velvety, emerald expanse of new lawn and uprooted the weeds that were already threatening to take over the new beds. They loved it (girls, not weeds), giggling madly as they ran and rolled on the grass, happy not to have anyone telling them not to pick the flowers (I was biting my tongue) or throw the mulch (more tongue biting). Argus was still not allowed out--when he gets excited, he gallops and I wasn't prepared to see divots the size of those I leave on golf courses.

(Right about now, I bet you're wondering when we get to the pity poop.) Because Argus is not allowed in the yard, he's getting at least two, sometimes three walk a day--something he hasn't had since about mid-way through my pregnancy with Charlotte. I know, I know. Poor guy. But now he's so excited about the walks that he won't finish his breakfast or dinner, instead prancing at the door, whimpering to go out. So out we go.

Now, when Argus is sent out to the back yard, he's usually pretty quick about finding a spot and taking care of business. But when we go out, he will walk for miles looking for just the right spot. And of course, there are the trees that must be greeted. Every. Single. One. And since Thomas was away last week, I had to load the girls into the stroller and take them out, too (normally the post-dinner poop is just Argus and either Thomas or me). It was dark, well past their bedtime; Charlotte started sniffling, Hannah started whining. And every time we stopped, I practically begged Argus to get on with it, already.

After a few blocks of this, he stopped, gave me a disgusted look and a heavy sigh, squatted and looked away. And there it was--the tiniest poop a Great Dane every offered up. It was a pity poop, just to get the three complaining women off his back. He looked so disgusted with us that I had to laugh. Which was not appreciated. When we got home, he went straight to his bed and, with what sounded remarkably like a "harrumph," put his nose in the corner and ignored me for the rest of the evening.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Boom Chicka Rock

The mouse stepped out of his little mouse hole
To see what was left in the cereal bowl.
He looked this way and pip-squeaked that
He said, "No sign of Max the cat.

I spy Birthday Cake on the old buffet.
The cat's asleep. It's time to play!
Let's dance and party and Rock-and-Roll.
Bring out the Good China Dishes
and the Big Punch Bowl!

Thus opens the book that Hannah chose for tonight's bedtime story. Actually, since we brought it home from the library, it's the book she's chosen most nights. Written by John Archambault and illustrated by Suzanne Tanner Chitwood, Boom Chicka Rock is definitely one of the most engaging of the children's books we're read over the past four years.

Using rhythm, rhyme and all of the dances you know from your childhood--and your parents'--(with the exception of the much-maligned macarena) Boom Chicka Rock tells the story of 12 little mice who get up to play while the cat is sleeping. Along the way, it teaches numbers, counting and telling time.

We have return it to the library tomorrow; I'm guessing that we'll bring it home again. And again. But to make sure that at least one other kid in Redwood City gets to read it, Santa now knows the first item on Hannah's list!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Smells Like Pie

Thomas hurt his thumb again. I should say "Hurt ONE of his thumbs again." I'm clumsy in a more general way; Thomas is all about messing with the thumbs. I guess I can't complain too much, because one of those injuries kept him from a scheduled trip to New York on September 11, 2001. And I guess I won't complain about this one either, but for a vastly different reason: The medicine he got for it, instead of Icy Hot, is called Tiger Balm*. It has clove oil in it. So instead of just being my own personal Thanksgiving blessing, he smells like the whole damn holiday.

Just my luck, he's in Hawai'i this week. Which may be a good thing after all, since I think he was starting to get a little tired of me following him around the house asking if it was time for pie.

* I tried to include the link (www.tigerbalm.com) but blogger keeps sending it back to this entry.

The Sound of Music

I've had a splitting headache for the past two days. I'm not sure if it's because I've moved into a hypomanic state (in case you couldn't tell by the volume of posts over the past three days) and haven't slept much or because Hannah has decided to take up yodeling. Not instead of, but in addition to the opera. For which, I'm told, she has a lovely, natural voice. You're forgiven for thinking that perhaps an actual voice teacher told me that. But no. It was our little diva herself. But she loves it, so I just make minor suggestions (don't sing--or talk--on the inhale is the big one) and pop a few more Tylenol.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Studio 60 Update

Many thanks to "Abracadab" who posted a link to the update on Studio 60--looks like they might get picked up for a full season after all! The TV Squad story includes this quote from Aaron Sorkin:

"Hopefully soon people will start paying attention to the show instead of who's making it," Sorkin told me today. "I really look at it as just the cost of doing business. I knew the reaction to the show was going to be a little bit noisier than I'd prefer. But hopefully, we're finally settling in and the audience is seeing the amazing cast and acknowledges the great, committed group of people who are behind this show."
But they still need eyeballs, people, so you know what to do!

(Watch it! Tell your friends. This is not something to keep a secret!)

Google Takes Over the World

When Thomas travels, we use Google Earth to show Hannah where he's going to be and where that is in relation to California. So far it has helped her with some basic geography--not only the names of the states, but their general location in the U.S.-- and has also been a great help for what she considers to be the most important part of every trip: "Daddy, did you bring me a snow globe? Um, I mean, how was your trip to XYZ? Did you bring me a snow globe?"

Who knew there could be a downside to such a wonderfully useful tool?

After school one day not long ago, Hannah decided to tell me all about the planets.

"Mommy, the sun is a ball of gases."

I, the ridiculously unimaginative parent who thought it wonderful that she knew where Virginia and Seattle were, gasped in delight "That's right! Where did you learn that?!"

Audible sigh.

"At school, mom. My teacher told me."

"That's great! What else did you learn?"

"About the planets. Saturn is big with rings. And Mars is hot. And the moon, and, um, Pluto, and Venus, and I can't remember what else. Oh, and we live on Google Earth."

So far, no amount of explaining can shake her faith that we live on Google Earth. And as an original Google fan and one-woman, East Coast marketing team, I have to say that she might not be all wrong. A little premature, perhaps. But wrong? Only when she gets old enough to have to answer that question for credit.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Day Humor

Kris mentioned this in a comment below, so here 'tis:

Courtesy Daily Kos -- Here's a lesson in how NOT to set up a photo shoot if your name is "Charlie Bass":

A Plea For Studio 60

I don't watch a lot of television. Not network TV, anyway. CSI (the original; David Caruso gives me the willies), The Amazing Race, hockey, and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Why Studio 60? After all, no one is watching it. It's allegedly about to be canceled. But:

Please, please, watch the show before it is. Buy the DVD after it is. Because, sadly, it is a rarity for modern television: smart, funny, well-written, with inspired casting. So if you're getting tired of all the reality shows (really, aren't we sometimes watching to escape reality?) and the run-of-the-mill shows that you can't watch without speaking lines of dialog before you've heard them, please check out Studio 60 before it's too late.

By the way, does TiVo sell the numbers of people who record the shows rather than watching them right away? I'm thinking that, with the advent of digital recorders, the Nielsen ratings might be just a tad passe, no?

Still Holding My Breath

My self-imposed (near) silence on the mid-term elections is almost at an end. I say almost because I am still holding my breath, waiting to see if tomorrow will bring tears of joy or the slightly angrier, 2004 kind. It is rather strange and wonderful to see how many people are actually following this round as the mid-terms don't usually get much notice, much less high voter turnout. I hope it holds and that more people will decide to go to the polls for every election.

There are few things more aggravating than someone complaining about the government and then admitting that they don't vote because, "really, what good does it do? They're all corrupt anyway." Maybe so, but it's your job. If you don't like the way something is going, do something--anything (legal)--to make a difference.

As I write this, washingtonpost.com is giving the Democrats a gain of 20 in the House (15 were needed to take over) and 3 in the Senate (six needed to take over). But as Thomas said, we've heard this story before, so I'm going to hold my breath for a few more hours.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

12 Months of Halloween Candy? Help!

We live on a hill. A very steep hill. People use our hill as their daily workout, doing lap after lap around the block. People do not want to drag their children up and down the hill to go trick-or-treating. So far, we've had five groups--nine kids total--and I think the last few are getting just a little old for the masks.

When we lived in the flatlands of Northern Virginia, we had easily 40-50 kids. In Campbell, we also had about that many, but I think some were repeats.

So now we're sitting on three Costco-sized bags of candy, unless we get one more group through. And I think those kids will be very happy. If not, Thomas might be taking a few treats to work tomorrow.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

I Know I Said I Wouldn't Do It, But

The election. I know, I know: I wasn't going to write anything else about it before THE DAY. But these thoughts are fairly benign. For me, anyway. So here goes:
  • Everyone who votes should do so by absentee ballot. I've spent a couple of hours today with my ballot and the Official Voter Information Guide--you really can't get it all from :30 and :60 spots, ya know. I tend to wade too deep into some of this stuff, but I know that I can't keep it all in my head and I KNOW I don't want to spend two hours in the voting booth while I re-read the text of the various initiatives and propositions and candidate statements. Especially since Tuesday is not one of Hannah's school days.
  • The one glaringly empty box on my ballot right now is the one under "Governor." I'm not sure that I trust Arnold (does he need a last name?), but I just can't connect with, like, believe in the distressingly bland Phil Angelides, who--I swear--has made so little impact that I just had to look up his name. I'm leaning toward Peter Camejo (Green Party), but I might just write in Thomas, who would, after all, make an excellent governor.
  • The candidates from the two major parties need to stop thinking that everyone knows who they are and what they stand for. Those ads I mentioned before? They kinda get lost in the fog from the steaming pile that spews from our televisions for seemingly years on end. Please, submit a statement to the Voter Information Guide. Not everyone looks for the little "R" and "D" on the ballot. I hope.
  • The American Independent Party of California is not what you think it is. Make sure you look them up before you register. If that's not what you were looking for, choose "Decline to State." Excuse me, I need to go wash my browser now.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Issues With My Issues

I've been in a bit of a mental rough patch lately and, until today, I thought I'd been dealing with it. But right after breakfast, Hannah came over to me and very solemnly asked, "Mommy, do you have issues today?"

"What do you mean?"

"You know: problems. Are you having problems today?"

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry so, instead, I gave her a big hug and told her that I thought my issues were going to take the day off.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Physical Therapy Appointment #2

The girls woke up early (6:45) and decided to let the whining begin. Charlotte wanted to eat, didn't want to eat, followed by the always-frustrating "Pick me up! No, no, put me down!! I want a nap! NOOOOO No Nap!" (Remember--she doesn't talk yet, so these are all just my interpretations of the yelling. Quite possibly, she was saying something more along the lines of "My it's chilly this morning! May I have a cup of tea?") So by the time we arrived for our 9:00 appointment, everyone was in a really delightful mood. Well, not the therapist, although she may have been by the time our session was over.

We put Hannah in extended care after Pre-K so that Charlotte could finish her regular Wednesday class and so we could try to get her other appointments scheduled on Monday or Friday afternoons. Even late on a Wednesday would be fine. But the waiting lists are long for PT, OT and speech therapy, so you have to take what you can get. And we got 9:00 every Thursday morning. Meaning that Hannah has to come along. And that I have to get over my distaste for getting out of jammies before 10:00.

The first session, Hannah did really well. She read her books and watched quietly for most of the time. Today, not so much as it became more of the Hannah Show. I know she feels left out, but Charlotte starts to shut down a little if there is too much going on. And Hannah refused to stop bouncing and asking questions and asking for toys--especially the noisy toys. So Charlotte, not surprisingly, was very fussy and didn't want to do most of the activities until about 10 minutes before our time was up. And I can't really be angry or upset with Hannah; she's four. All of this is new to her--new toys and new people.

Thank goodness Lora (the therapist) writes up notes for me after every session. That way I know what we actually went over each day, as well as what our homework is for the next week. She is also really good about trying to find ways for Hannah to participate. Hannah is very excited about that part and proudly tells everyone that she helps Charlotte with her exercises so that she can walk like a big girl. It's really very sweet, but I still think I'm going to look for the duct tape this weekend.

While the Cat's Away

Ah, poor Thomas. Little does he know that while he is away in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest (OK, he's at a lovely hotel in Seattle), I am at home dusting off my archaeologist's tool kit. Why? Because there is a half gallon of Denali Chocolate Moose Tracks ice cream that cries out to be returned to a more vanilla-like state.

Bonus? All that digging burns off more calories than are actually in it! Or so I am telling myself.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

I Should Have Known

When Charlotte was evaluated for her program, the pediatrician told us that it would be six months to a year before Charlotte was walking (she was 19 months old at the time). When she had her physical therapy evaluation three weeks ago the therapist said it would be six to twelve months before she was walking normally (Charlotte, not the therapist). But I guess Charlotte is a little more like her sister than we thought; tell her she can't do something and she decides that that is the one thing that she must do.

Sooooo---drum roll, please . . . .

On Friday, Charlotte decided that it was time to prove everyone wrong. I took away the laundry basket she was using as a floor sander and she stood there looking at me and then just started walking. Six or eight steps at first, but then Hannah wanted Charlotte to walk to her too, so she went another six. And then another.

By Saturday morning, she was going as if she had been walking for months. Thomas and I sat about six feet apart at first, gradually moving out to about 15 feet. Charlotte just kept going from one of us to the other, stopping only long enough to get a hug before turning around again. She probably went 20 round trips before deciding that that was enough.

I wept.

At first, my face just hurt. I couldn't drop the ear-to-ear grin. But then the cascade of emotions kept coming: amazement, relief, wonder, delight, pride, joy, and, yes, relief again. And then came the tears. It's been so hard to watch her running on those poor callused little knees. Hard having one pediatrician tell us that she had all of the symptoms that they see in kids with autism. Really hard trying to ignore the people who would say "Ooohhh" in that knowing way when they asked her age after discovering that she didn't walk or talk yet. After all, they don't know her like we do. They can't see the wheels turning and the knowing way she watches everything and absorbs everything.

But then Charlotte got up and walked and, just when I thought the day couldn't get any better, she signed "Daddy."

Friday, October 20, 2006

Lessons From a Two Year Old

OK, almost two years old.

A few days ago Charlotte had her third class at a program for children with developmental delays. Like all of the kids in the program, her delays are mostly physical but, as she usually closes her eyes and turns away when something unexpected or new comes into view, she probably has a sensory integration issue as well.

Over the past few weeks, Thomas and I have learned a lot about Charlotte that we never would have figured out on our own. Like the way she "cheats" when coming to standing to avoid using her calf muscles. (She has low muscle tone in her calves and does whatever she can to avoid working those muscles.) She can walk while holding on to something or someone, but generally gets around by walking on her knees. I tried it with her one day; trust me when I tell you that this is not comfortable! She is pretty fast, though: Lately when I put Hannah and Charlotte to bed, I'm reminded of the days of trying to stuff two cats into one crate for a trip to the vet. The cats, of course, were not giggling madly as they galloped away. But I digress.

One of the program directors told me that low muscle tone is not a problem with the muscle itself, but rather is the strength of the signal from the brain to the muscle--not something that you can change with exercise. (You can learn to compensate, however.) So everything Charlotte does is twice as hard as it would be for most people. The way it was explained to me is to "Think about what you do every day. Now think about doing it while wading knee-deep in water." Which is probably why she sleeps so much. Of course, we always thought "Yay! Good sleeper!" but no, it's actually because she's exhausted just from being up and around.

Having Charlotte in this program is a gift; in a very short time, it has helped her both physically and socially. She loves the singing and painting and playing with all of the messy stuff we don't normally do at home (see below). And the parent support group has been good for me, too. Until now I didn't want to acknowledge--even to myself--how difficult this has been. Hannah was so precocious, hitting every milestone way ahead of her peers, that it was hard to readjust and admit that I might have been expecting something different, and that I had been trying desperately not to force that expectation on Charlotte.

But every day as I watch her and play with her, I find myself both awed and humbled. She is such an amazing little person--very curious and affectionate and happy. And she is almost always in a good mood. To quote Jack Nicholson in As Good as It Gets, she "makes me want to be a better person."


A few of the tips I've picked up from Charlotte's teachers include:
1) Put Cheerios in an ice cube tray to force her to use a pincer grasp rather than the "sweep."
2) When drawing or painting, point the tip of crayon or brush toward her so that she picks it up correctly.
3) A thin mix of corn starch and water is a good tactile exercise. It's a very different feel and strangely addictive--once the kids agree to actually touch it.
4) And the strangest one so far: Empty a couple of tubs of Cool Whip into a large container. Toss in a few toy animals and cars and let the kids play. This exercise is actually used for speech--it helps the kids learn to imitate animal sounds and car noises. Very messy but lots of fun!
5) Do not wear nice clothes to class. Ever.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Return of the Diva

This morning I was awakened by the sound of Charlotte crying. It wasn't early, so I wasn't really worried. "She's probably hungry," I thought. Then the cry changed to the one that makes moms run. So I hopped out of bed and I ran.

Charlotte was sitting in her crib, sobbing.

Hannah immediately volunteered the reason:

"I was singing opera. Charlotte kept singing something else. I told her to stop. And then she fell down."

"Did she have help falling down?"

"No. I was singing opera and she wouldn't listen. And then she fell down."

"How did she get the red mark on her face?"

"She fell down. By herself. And banged her face on the crib. By herself."

Hannah loves opera--has from the first time she ever heard it. Maybe that's because she actually heard it in utero: Thomas and I went to see Andrea Bocelli when I was about five months along and she was kicking like crazy during the whole concert. There's a funny story that goes along with that--Thomas won't let me forget it but I'll save the long version for another time. Short version: I had only heard Andrea Bocelli--loved his voice; never seen him. I said something about him always having his eyes closed in his photos. Thomas told me that Bocelli was blind. I was, to put it mildly, mortified. (Ironically this made me able to feel for GW Bush when he made his unfortunate comments to a visually-impaired reporter wearing sunglasses to a press conference.)

So anyway. Hannah is an opera fan. Charlotte is not. Hannah may or may not have knocked Charlotte over for her lack of musical appreciation. But I didn't see it and Charlotte can't talk, so I can't punish Hannah for something that may not have happened. Unless you consider punishment to be (as she did) the chat about why we have to be nice to other people, especially people who, one day, are going to be big enough to hit back.

Friday, October 13, 2006

A Nobel Prize for a Noble Endeavor

Not many things will get me hopping out of bed at 5:30 in the morning. Girls crying? Yes. Random news bit? Not usually. But today was different. Today, the first thing I heard was that
Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank had won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. This is amazing in that, while richly deserved, it was--at least in most quarters--completely unexpected. There were so many other high profile nominees and Muhammad Yunus is not exactly a household name. Yet.

I first learned about Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank after Thomas met him through work and come away amazingly, infectiously energized and awestruck--not something that he does every day (the awestruck part, that is). So I did a little research on Mr Yunus, an American-educated Bangladeshi economist, and became a fan.

The idea behind the Grameen bank is that small--very small--loans can make an incredible difference in people's lives, and that that positive change can spread through the community. When we think "loan" we're probably thinking, minimum, a couple thousand. But Grameen Bank deals in micro-finance with loans not in the thousands of dollars, but in the tens of dollars. If I remember correctly, the first loan Mr Yunus made--while he was a college student--was less than $20. It was all the money he had in his pocket. But it was paid back, on time and with interest, and thus began Grameen Bank, which has now made loans to more than six million people.

Grameen Bank is decidedly not "trickle-down economics" which gives tax breaks and incentives to the rich and hopes that they will then invest more in industry, which will in turn create more jobs. Grameen turns that model on its head by making small loans to people that regular banks won't touch. Those who, in some cases, have nothing but their word and a business idea to offer as collateral. And these "risky" loans have paid off in a big way: Since the bank started, it has made more than five billion--yes BILLION--dollars in loans of which an astounding 99% has been repaid. Want to guess the repayment rate for the typical banking industry? Try "Not even close." Because of this, Grameen has been able to turn a profit every year but three. The people who pay off the loans come back for more to expand the initial business or to create a new one. They hire workers and buy raw materials, spreading the wealth throughout the community.

Grameen Bank's borrowers own 94% of the bank, which has more than 2,000 branches and more than 18,000 employees. And the vast majority of the borrowers, and so the bank's owners, are women.

Mohammed Yunus understands that poverty is at the root of much of the world's ills and that empowering the poor of the world to take control their own lives is the only solution that makes sense. And that this solution benefits not just the borrowers themselves, but the entire world. So kudos to the Nobel selection committee for seeing past the dazzle of more famous nominees in presenting the Nobel Peace Prize to Mohammed Yunus and Grameen Bank.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Almost Heaven

It's raining.

The girls are asleep.

The windows are open.

There is jazz on the stereo, a glass of wine in my hand.

I close my eyes and feel myself drift in time.

I can almost make out the sax player across the smoke-hazed room.

I begin to lose myself in the seductive rhythm.

The dog just farted. The spell is broken.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

And the Insanity Continues

It's been interesting reading the fallout from the Mark Foley mess. For the past few days, the denunciations of Foley and the House leadership have come from right, left and center. I almost fell off my chair when I heard that the Washington Times was actually calling for Dennis Hastert's resignation for not removing Foley as Chair of the House committee on missing and exploited children.

But today, while scanning the comments on an ABC News blog, it happened: Somehow, someone has decided to bring the "C" word into even this. Yes, that's right: Bill Clinton. The posters want to know why this is such a big deal to ABC when they didn't really have a problem with Bill having an affair with a 19 year old intern. First: Monica was either 22 or 23 at the time and not an intern, but a White House employee. So while stupid, the affair does not come close to the alleged actions of Mark Foley. Second: IT HEADLINED THE NEWS FOR AN ENTIRE YEAR!!!

Another frequent question/criticism was why ABC had held the story until five weeks before the election. I suppose it's a valid question and I can think of several valid answers. But for me, the bigger question would be why the House leadership decided that it was ok to leave him as Chair of this particular House committee? Even the slightest suspicion of inappropriate contact with an underage kid should have been grounds for removal. But because they decided to sweep it under the rug, we are left with the indelible impression that the House leadership cared more about the security of their grip on Congress than the safety of the pages who go there to learn about the legislative process. Not exactly the lesson they signed up for.

I've also been disgusted and bemused by the left-wing wackos (yes, yes--we have them too) who are using this opportunity to tar the entire Republican party as the "Gang of Pedophiles." Where is the moderation? Where is the sanity? This is about one sick man and the few creeps whose first thought was for their own hides. But, as we've become so polarized over the past five years, politicians on the right and left are constantly looking for the slightest incident that could tip the balance of power. This is taking it too far.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Dream of a Reluctant Minivan Driver

Yes, that would be me.

People are always asking if I like the minivan--a 2005 Toyota Sienna XLE. And I can honestly say that, for what it is, I do like it. It gets great gas mileage and there's plenty of room for the girls, a Great Dane and whatever else we might need. The automatic doors are great when you're juggling kids and grocery bags. But still. It's a minivan: People speed up when I try to pass them. I get flipped off for driving in the carpool lane even when I'm doing 80. (Um, not that I would do that, of course.)

But, like so many other minivan drivers, I too have a fantasy car. I'm 99.99999999999% sure that I will never own it, much less drive it, but hey--a girl can dream!

In the meantime, I'll just keep my bitch boots on the accelerator of--sigh--the minivan.

Fighting the Urge to Vomit

A week or so ago, I managed to piss off the one sister I have who still speaks to me (don't feel too bad; I only have two) so I tried to stay away from the political for a bit. But I can't do it any more. I am angrier now than I have been since November of 2004 when, in our infinite wisdom, we once again allowed a morally bankrupt politician, seemingly deficient in both brains and compassion, to occupy the White House. When was the last time America was so reviled around the world? And where the hell are the people who were elected to represent us in Congress? Hiding behind their own shadows, that's where--at least when they aren't flexing their muscle with the HP investigation, for Christ's sake. Because really, it's almost election day; time to make it look like they've accomplished something.

Every day, something else comes out that screams "Hey, maybe someone did make a mistake about Iraq. Let's take a look at some options." Is that allowed? Hell no. Instead, we send out the big guns to once again brand as a traitor and un-American anyone who questions the president's conduct of this war. Snide, contemptible remarks like "I have to wonder if the Democrats are more concerned about protecting the terrorists than about protecting the American people" and "Some people won't be satisfied until we are forced to read Miranda rights on the battlefield" serve as red herrings to draw attention away from the continued evisceration of the Constitution.

Do you think that anyone actually read the Military Commission Act of 2006 before they voted on it? No. Want to know why? Because they were still filling in the blanks the night before the votes were cast. And we certainly don't have to worry about anyone being read their Miranda rights--on or off--the battlefield; the battlefield is now wherever the president says it is. And on the matter of torture: "We do not torture," the president recently told us. So if we don't and haven't, why do we need to immunize from prosecution anyone involved in the "harsher" interrogations that have occurred since September 11, 2001? If they did nothing illegal, members of the administration, CIA and others should already be protected under existing law, no?

There. It's off my chest and (at least a bit) out of my system; maybe now I can think more clearly. I've turned off the comments on this one because really, I'm just venting and I don't feel like being flogged for it.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Thinking Green

Finally, I can feel (sort of) smug about not using cloth diapers. According to an article in the October issue of Wired magazine, washing cloth diapers at home uses 6,946 gallons of water per year. Sending them out to a diaper-cleaning service (and who wouldn't, given the choice?) raises the water consumption to 17, 908 gallons per year. Your energy consumption and annual solid and water waste numbers do go up with disposables, but the recommendation is to use them if you live in a drought-prone area. Like, say, California.

At the grocery store, I always choose paper over plastic, and until today, I felt pretty good about that. Turns out that's not always such a great idea either. Sure, we end up tossing more plastic (1.6 million tons) than paper (1 million tons), but it takes only 600 BTUs to make one plastic bag versus 2500 BTUs for a paper bag. Time to buy a cloth bag or, better still, put some of those trade show bags to good use.

Do you still rinse your dishes before putting them in the dishwasher? Or worse, actually wash them before loading? Using a standard dishwasher, you're using 3,473 gallons of water and 735 kilowatt-hours every year. Wash them by hand with the water running and use up 5,974 gallons of water and 1,243 kilowatt-hours. The best bet--and I know my mother would cringe at this one--is to wash them in a high-efficiency dishwasher WITHOUT rinsing: 868 gallons of water, 276 kwh per year.

But don't just listen to me--read it for yourself! There's a nice little surprise in there about your coffee cup, too.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Earmuffs, Please

One of the hidden joys of moving is switching over all of the utilities. They never seem to have any difficulty finding you when they think your bill is past due but they haven't quite figured out how to apply the payments to the new account rather than the account tied to the previous address. So what does this mean? Fun stuff with AT&T today--it almost rivals Thomas's Comcastic experience.

On Sept 15 I paid AT&T $113.74 for the August statement. Nothing weird there.

On Sept 19, they sent me a new statement with a credit of $113.74 PLUS a check for $113.74. Ok, that was a little weird. So I decided not to deposit the check.

Good thing.

Today, I received a disconnection notice because of an unpaid balance of--you'll never guess--$113.74. WTF?? I thought. Well, to be honest, I thought it out loud. Out very loud. Hannah was listening, so it ended up sounding more like "WHAT THE FUfffffffffohforchristssake!"

I spent the next 30 minutes trapped in the not-so-helpful AT&T customer holding pen. Er, system. And then another 10 minutes after I hung up and called back.

"Thanks for calling AT&T! I see that you have an outstanding balance of $151.26! May I take payment on that today?"

Um, no my cheery little man. You may not.

With a few keystrokes and apologies for the system being so slow, he said, "Huh," apologized again--yes, it was their mistake--and said that, since they had already sent the check, I would still need to pay the $113.74 AGAIN. You know, just so there would not be an interruption of the phone and Internet services.

Mindful of the problems Thomas has had with Comcast reps incorrectly telling him (much nicer than saying "lying to him to get him off the phone") that the situation had been resolved, I made sure I got my guy's phone number, address, social security number and underwear size. Not really. It's not like he was applying for a loan. But I did get his employee ID number, just in case.

I would like to say that this was an isolated incident, but Thomas had the problem with Comcast (of course, they not only said that we owed them money but that we had swiped their modem when we moved). And PG&E didn't combine our accounts as I had been told. The PG&E rep was great about just moving the money from one account to another, but he did tell me that they would not have caught the error; the payments would have just continued to accumulate in the old account while I kept getting notices of non-payment on the current account.

And he knew this because?

They did it to his mother. Ah, more good times!

So if you have moved recently, be sure to check, check and double check that your kids are out of earshot before you open the bills.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

On John Adams

I've just finished reading David McCullough's excellent biography of John Adams, signer of the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Ambassador, first U.S. Vice President, second U.S. President and father of the sixth U.S. President. You know: a classic underachiever. Anyway, a couple of thoughts:

Anyone longing for the "good old days" of civil discourse is deluding themselves. Compared to the beginnings of the republic, this IS the age of civility. And the press today are more than timid. In some of the kinder comments, Adams was repeatedly referred to "pretty fat and flourishing" and a "pharisee of liberty." And that was just by the British press. In the U.S., he was mocked as "His Rotundity" and "the President by Three Votes;" a tool of the British and a "a man divested of his senses." And though they later patched up their friendship, Thomas Jefferson told a French ambassador that "Mr Adams is vain, irritable, stubborn, [and] endowed with excessive-self love."

But Mr. Adams believed strongly in conscience over party; in doing what he thought was right for the country rather than what was right for his political party. Something we could use a little more of these days.

While reading, I constantly found myself trying to draw parallels to the current goings-on in the political world and it was with difficulty that I restrained myself. After all, it's easy to find parallels when you bring your own biases to the party. But from one line (now inscribed on a mantelpiece in the State Dining Room) Adams wrote after moving in to the White House, I think I have a better understanding of why Bush is so uncomfortable spending time there: "May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof."

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Question of Conscience

The Bush administration wants to ban only those torture methods that "shock the conscience." I'm assuming that this judicial interpretation was meant to apply more generally, as in "the nation's conscience." However, Bush seems to be taking it more specifically to mean, well, him. And therein lies the problem.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Apocalypse, Now?

I've spent the last few days wondering if it Pat Buchanan practically urging Al Gore to run for president in 2008 and Christopher Buckley saying that it maybe it was time for a time-out for Republicans could be a sign of the apocalypse. And in June, George Will basically said Al Gore should run, that the Presidency would be the best way to influence the debate on global warming.

Of course, there are some blatantly political reasons for wanting the Democrats to at least take the House: Give the Republicans time to regroup while the dems, though in power, would not be able to move an agenda with the Senate and White House still in Republican hands. The Democrats then become the do-nothings, completely focused on the sure-to-be-launched investigations of the run up to Iraq, illegal wire-tapping and torture issues. Republicans could then just sit back and watch as the American public became increasingly disgusted, returning both houses of Congress and the White House to Republican hands in 2008. Brilliant. Sick, but brilliant. Not that I'm feeling cynical about all of this.

So is it too late for Al Gore? Can he come back and take what so many feel was rightfully his? He's come a long way in the past six years. But does he want to do that to himself again?

I like Hillary, but I don't think she can win a general election. I think she would be more effective staying in the Senate.

I like Joe Biden, but he still has a little baggage and really, really likes to hear himself talk.

Russ Feingold--like him, but don't know that he has the name recognition that he'd need.

Did Gore get a dose of humility large enough to make him come across as himself this time and not some stuffed shirt who knows he's the smartest guy in the room? (Biden also suffers from this but still manages to make you think you might want to grab a beer with him anyway. Just throwing that in since so many people find it an appealing quality in a presidential candidate.)

And did Gore learn enough to let the Clinton machine do it's job this time? Has he made his peace with Bill? Yes, yes, Bill has some personal issues, but the man knows politics. He knows America and he knows how to get elected. Also doesn't hurt that he's playing nice with Bush I. Not that I'm feeling cynical or anything.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Tumor Free!

Three hundred and a few dollars later, Argus is officially tumor free and ready to have his teeth cleaned. The exam was only supposed to take 15-20 minutes, but half an hour later we were still waiting for him to come back with the vet. My anxiety must have been contagious because, as I felt my stomach begin to do flips of worry, the girls got quieter and quieter until Hannah asked why it was taking so long. (I'm pretending that it was out of concern for Argus and not because Charlotte had just finished the last of the crackers and juice.)

Just a few minutes later I heard the thump thumping of his tail on the wall before he reentered the room, looking extremely pleased with himself. Apparently he was very cooperative and his usual charming self with the staff. The only thing they couldn't check was his adrenal glands which were blocked by his stomach, swollen a bit from nervous gulping of air. But he's home and healthy and happy! Fortunately his insurance should cover the blood work and the ultrasound. Unfortunately, it will not cover the dental. But I guess that's the price of puppy love.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Suri With the Fringe On Top

Ok, it's a "shock" of hair, not just a fringe. And anyone who recognizes the title is either as old as I am (older?) or has either seen Oklahoma! or When Harry Met Sally a few too many times.

Anyway. Back to Suri Cruise, aka the wagon that TomKat is riding back to relevance.

I am almost ashamed to admit that I gave in to the hype and went to Vanity Fair site last week where there are three photos posted--you have to buy the mag for the rest. Yes, yes, she's very cute but I expected more. A halo maybe.

People please--it's a baby! They're born every day. They just don't have parents with the same PR machine or the desire to make the kid start earning her keep that soon. I'm sure that the money will be donated to charity, but still. At the rate that Tom and Katie were losing popularity, does anyone think that Vanity Fair would have given them a spread that big--much less paid for it--without Suri?

And we wonder why children of stars are so messed up

One more thing: Annie Liebovitz could make a freshly-dug turnip beautiful.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Puppy Love

My oldest child just turned six in July. He weighs 144 pounds and stands 32" at the shoulder. He is the color of summer wheat, just starting to darken for the winter. His mask is black, shot through with the silver that announces his advancing age.

Like any good kid, Argus alternately makes me incredibly happy (feeble attempts to be a lap dog; not minding the occasional tutu around his neck) and drives me crazy (inhaling the cupcakes meant for Charlotte's NICU nurses; eating two sticks of butter intended for cookies; barking at dangerous-looking Chihuahuas while ignoring the magazine salesman at the door). His tricks are limited to balancing a cookie on his nose, bounding at the window barking when you say "Look!" and maintaining his dignity as he slides on his butt down a freshly mopped hall.

But he is my puppy love--the first dog I ever had. (My mother thought only boys should have dogs, while cats were deemed appropriate for girls--I'll get to that post one of these days.) I never knew I was a dog person until we found each other. Last week I dropped him off at the vet to have his teeth cleaned. Three hours later, Dr Schmidt called to say that his Alk/phos was high and not just a tad high, but three times the normal range. So they cancelled his cleaning and started throwing around words like "internist" and "ultrasound" and "liver biopsy."

So while we're sure it's nothing, Argus has to have an abdominal ultrasound done tomorrow afternoon. They are going to check for tumors, stones, and other things I don't want to think about right now. And when they don't find anything he'll still need to get his teeth cleaned, because though not kind, Hannah rightly keeps telling the poor guy he smells like he ate a catfish.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

He Actually Said it With a Straight face

Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell:

The Democrats are trying to politicize the war on terror. They are the ones who chose to make this a political issue . . .

So there you have it: It's OK for Republicans to trot out the already-beaten-to-death issue on the eve of an election or any other time they need to change the subject. Anyone else even mentioning it with a questioning tone is a) a traitor; b) an appeaser; c) against the troops; or d) using an issue of national security for political gain.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

First Day of School

You may have noticed that I've been eagerly awaiting the first day of school. Well, the wait is finally over and it would seem that I wasn't the only one counting the days. I took Hannah by yesterday to show her where her classrooms are and she refused to leave. I had to drag her, kicking and screaming, to the car under the watchful eye of the hired security guards. Ah, good times!

Today she was dressed and ready to go an hour before we needed to leave--which is in itself a miracle. Once we arrived, I thought there might be some show of shyness or not wanting me to leave her there. But no. She kissed Charlotte good-bye in the car and, once we reached her classroom, said good-bye again as she gently nudged Mom and sister back toward the door. So here I am, three hours later, trying not to be impatient with Time dragging it's feet toward five o'clock.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Because It's Funny (and I'm feeling lazy)

The flood of American liberals sneaking across the border into Canada has intensified in the past week, sparking calls for increased patrols to stop the illegal immigration.

The unflinching arrogance of the Bush Administration is prompting the exodus among liberal citizens who fear they'll soon be required to hunt, pray in public, and agree with Bill O'Reilly.

Canadian border farmers say it's not uncommon to see dozens of sociology professors, animal-rights activists, and Unitarians crossing their fields at night. "I went out to milk the cows the other day, and there was a Hollywood producer huddled in the barn," said Manitoba farmer Red Greenfield, whose acreage borders North Dakota.

The producer was cold, exhausted, and hungry. "He asked me if I could spare a latte and some free-range chicken. When I said I didn't have any, he left. Didn't even get a chance to show him my screenplay, eh?"

In an effort to stop the illegal aliens, Greenfield erected higher fences, but the liberals scaled them. So he tried installing speakers that blare Rush Limbaugh across the fields. "Not real effective," he said. "The liberals still got through, and Rush annoyed the cows so much they wouldn't give milk"

Officials are particularly concerned about smugglers who meet liberals near the Canadian border, pack them into Volvo station wagons, drive them across the border and leave them to fend for themselves. "A lot of these people are not prepared for rugged conditions," an Ontario border patrolman said. "I found one carload without a drop of drinking water. They did have a nice little Napa Valley cabernet, though."

When liberals are caught, they're sent back across the border, often wailing loudly that they fear retribution from conservatives. Rumors have been circulating about the Bush administration establishing re-education camps in which liberals will be forced to drink domestic beer and watch NASCAR.

Liberals have turned to sometimes-ingenious ways of crossing the border. Some have taken to posing as senior citizens on bus trips to buy cheap Canadian prescription drugs. After catching a half-dozen young vegans disguised in powdered wigs, Canadian immigration authorities began stopping buses and quizzing the supposed senior-citizen passengers. "If they can't identify the accordion player on The Lawrence Welk Show, we get suspicious about their age," an official said.

Canadian citizens have complained that the illegal immigrants are creating an organic-broccoli shortage and renting all the good Susan Sarandon movies." I feel sorry for American liberals, but the Canadian economy just can't support them," an Ottawa resident said. "How many art-history majors does one country need?"

In an effort to ease tensions between the United States and Canada, Vice President Dick Cheney met with the Canadian ambassador and pledged that the administration would take steps to reassure liberals, a source close to Cheney said. "We're going to have some Peter, Paul & Mary concerts. And we might put some endangered species on postage stamps. The President is determined to reach out."

My only source is my friend Jessica, who got it from her mother. Smells like The Onion though, eh?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Here's to Girly Girls and Muppets, Too

A recent article by Tanya Barrientos of the Philadelphia Enquirer (reprinted today in the San Jose Mercury News) noted the derision encountered by PBS executives as they introduced Sesame Street's first new muppet in thirteen years--a little girl named Abby Cadabby. So what's the problem? Well, it would seem that Abby Cadabby is a girly girl. She's pink. She wears a pretty dress. She has sparkly pink hair. She dabbles in magic.

Ms. Barrientos quotes one of the critics, Susan Linn, co-founder of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, as saying:

"The last thing little girls need is one more pink fairy. My understanding is that she's a little incompetent with her magic, too. I'm concerned that now even the Sesame Workshop has bought into the girlie, girlie commercialized image of what it is to be feminine. They could have had a Asian girl, they could have had a girl who's really good at math. They could have had someone who's just more complex."

There are so many things wrong with this statement that I'm not sure where to begin, but I'll give it a shot.

1) "My understanding is . . ." Does this mean that Ms. Linn has not even watched the show? So is she judging on appearances? Isn't this discouraged by parents everywhere?

2) "[S]he's a little incompetent with her magic": Do we demand that Elmo color within the lines? She's THREE YEARS OLD. Very few of us are competent at any one thing at three. Those who are are exceptional. Gifted. Not necessarily someone that the average three year old can relate too. So maybe not a good character for a show targeted to younger children.

3) "They could have had an Asian girl . . ." Sure, and they could have chosen an African-American girl or an Indian girl or any other ethnicity. But why? If I remember correctly, Rosita and Prairie Dawn are the only Muppets on Sesame Street who have a specific ethnicity. What ethnicity is Elmo, the most popular (at least in my house)? Or Cookie Monster, who runs a close second? Bert and Ernie are closer to having an identifiable ethnicity, but they could go one of a couple of different ways.

4) ". . . they could have had a girl who's really good at math." See number two above--SHE'S THREE YEARS OLD. Sesame Street has always been about learning, not about how to handle being a child prodigy. And anyway, Count Von Count is still very much a part of the show, so the math thing is covered.

5) "They could have had an Asian girl, they could have had a girl who's really good at math." I had to read that one three times. While I sincerely hope that it was just an unfortunate coincidence that these two ideas were in the same sentence, I have to wonder if Ms. Linn has her priorities straight. While I'm a huge fan of Noggin and public television for my children, I would rather have them watch a few commercials than learn to assign these implied ethnic stereotypes, which brings me to,

6) Why do we assume that girlie girls are less capable and/or less smart than their more obviously bookish sisters? Why the surprise when a beautiful woman is good at math and science? Why the flip-side disappointment that the less-attractive woman won't be able to do your taxes after all? Do we just assume braininess is a built-in survival mechanism that the more attractive women have been able to turn off as unnecessary? I'm fairly certain that can't be it as standards of beauty change too fast for evolution to keep up.

I don't wonder these things idly, as an impartial observer in need of a blog topic. I live with an uber-girlie girl. Hannah, who I happen to think is gorgeous and smart and funny, will only wear dresses and skirts, the twirlier the better. I've tried, but she decided at 18 months that pants just weren't for her. Sure, it's frustrating sometimes because it might be a wee bit safer to climb in jeans and shoes. But was I proud when she responded to a playmate's "You can't climb a tree in THAT" with "Yes I can--watch!" as she proceeded to out climb him--in her dress and flip flops!

And when I say that Hannah is a girlie girl, it goes deeper than just what she likes to wear. She plays dress up and, yes, princesses are her favorite. Her favorite color is pink and has been from the first time she saw it--this even after I made sure that all of her baby clothes were purple, green and/or yellow. She's never had a pink bedroom but is determined that her new room will be pink with black polka dots. She has tea parties and makes hats for the bears and dolls who attend. Every spare piece of fabric becomes a blankie for some random "baby," some of which are then tucked into socks for their naps.

But my girlie girl is also good at math. She loves books. Her favorite place on earth is the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and she will pretend for weeks on end that our playroom is a tank filled with sharks and tuna and sea turtles. She knows how to tell a giant squid from an octopus and can tell you the names of some of the jelly fish. She knows her letters and the sound each makes, although she's not really interested in reading yet (but she will let you know if you ever skip a page).

In short, Hannah is just like almost every other person on the planet--there is much more to her than you might see at first glance. And rather than making her any less complex, being a girlie girl makes her that much more interesting. I wouldn't have her any other way.

So here's to the girlie girls everywhere, even (without naming names) those who sell themselves as brainless twits. Because after all, even if you start with a famous name, it takes a certain amount of smarts to make cluelessness your raison d'etre.

Monday, August 28, 2006

In Which I Nominate My First Idiot of the Week

Without further ado, under the category of "Please Tell Me This is a Joke," the inaugural Idiot of the Week (IOW) award goes to . . . Katherine Harris of Florida! Name sound familiar? Think back to the 2000 presidential elections. Think "recount." Think "Florida Secretary of State." Think "please don't let sane Floridians make this mistake again."

Much of the world hasn't heard from Ms. Harris since her hand helped Bush into the White House. The Republican party, in gratitude, helped Ms. Harris into the House of Representatives. Ms Harris is now in the midst of a fight for her political life, running for the Senate in a race that, apparently, no state or national Republican of any stature is willing to support. She's gone through several campaign managers and the current one is not smart enough to keep her boss from giving an interview to the Florida Baptist Weekly in which she says, among other things, that only Christians should be elected to office in the U.S.--but I won't try to paraphrase. Jim Stratton of the Orlando Sentinel posted this to the Chicago Tribune News blogs (I've bolded my favorite part):

If you are not electing Christians, tried and true, under public scrutiny and pressure, if you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin," she [Harris] told interviewers, citing abortion and gay marriage as two examples of that sin.

"Whenever we legislate sin," she said, "and we say abortion is permissible and we say gay unions are permissible, then average citizens who are not Christians, because they don't know better, we are leading them astray and it's wrong. . . ."

Harris also said the separation of church and state is a "lie we have been told" to keep religious people out of politics.

In reality, she said, "we have to have the faithful in government" because that is God's will. Separating religion and politics is "so wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers," she said.

"And if we are the ones not actively involved in electing those godly men and women," then "we're going to have a nation of secular laws. That's not what our founding fathers intended and that's [sic] certainly isn't what God intended."

Send your own nominations--we'll make this a regular Monday feature!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

My President Has a First Name . . . .

It's L-I-A-R. Ok, ok, so that doesn't exactly work with the Oscar Mayer tune, but it's close!

In one of the most quoted and remarked upon moments of his scrambled-together press conference on Monday, Bush said that not only did Iraq have nothing (NOTHING!) to do with the attacks on 9/11, but that no one in his administration had ever suggested such a connection (emphasis added):

Q Quick follow-up. A lot of the consequences you mentioned for pulling out seem like maybe they never would have been there if we hadn't gone in. How do you square all of that?

THE PRESIDENT: I square it because, imagine a world in which you had Saddam Hussein who had the capacity to make a weapon of mass destruction, who was paying suiciders to kill innocent life, who would -- who had relations with Zarqawi. Imagine what the world would be like with him in power. The idea is to try to help change the Middle East.

Now, look, part of the reason we went into Iraq was -- the main reason we went into Iraq at the time was we thought he had weapons of mass destruction. It turns out he didn't, but he had the capacity to make weapons of mass destruction. But I also talked about the human suffering in Iraq, and I also talked the need to advance a freedom agenda. And so my question -- my answer to your question is, is that, imagine a world in which Saddam Hussein was there, stirring up even more trouble in a part of the world that had so much resentment and so much hatred that people came and killed 3,000 of our citizens.

You know, I've heard this theory about everything was just fine until we arrived, and kind of "we're going to stir up the hornet's nest" theory. It just doesn't hold water, as far as I'm concerned. The terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East.

Q What did Iraq have to do with that?

THE PRESIDENT: What did Iraq have to do with what?

Q The attack on the World Trade Center?

THE PRESIDENT: Nothing, except for it's part of -- and nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq was a -- the lesson of September the 11th is, take threats before they fully materialize, Ken. Nobody has ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq. I have suggested, however, that resentment and the lack of hope create the breeding grounds for terrorists who are willing to use suiciders to kill to achieve an objective. I have made that case. . . .
Now, the question is how do we succeed in Iraq? And you don't succeed by leaving before the mission is complete, like some in this political process are suggesting.

How do you complete a constantly changing mission? Bush just said--on the record--that we were wrong about the WMD. That Saddam had NOTHING to do with 9/11 (though an incredible number of Americans still believe that--any guesses why?). So what is the mission now? Spreading democracy? Is that only until the Iraqi people elect someone we don't like? Because it sometimes seems as though we only support democratically elected governments when they toe the Washington line. And in a free and fair election in our own country, our vice president insinuates that those who voted against Joe Lieberman were somehow advancing the terrorist agenda. Pathetic. But Bush says:

I will never question the patriotism of somebody who disagrees with me. This has nothing to do with patriotism; it has everything to do with understanding the world in which we live. . . .

So is it not a lie if you get the Vice President to do the questioning?

Note to those keeping track of words added to the English language by GWB:


Maybe he'll turn out to be our very own Shakespeare after all!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

A Gardener's Lament

You know you're a gardener when you begin to feel that itch in your fingers toward the end of winter, if not sooner; the itch that tells you to get out and start digging--gloves or no. Last year, this was a problem for me because it rained for what seemed like at least half of forever. We couldn't dig or plant because the ground was so thoroughly saturated that it would only compact the soil and suffocate the plants. So no peas or beans, and the tomatoes--three kinds!--were so late going in that they didn't start to ripen until just before we moved.

Which leads to another sign that you're a gardener: Anxiously checking on the plants every morning and afternoon, searching for a luscious, perfectly red tomato with the unmistakable smell of summer, the smell that you could carry around all day just from the periodic dives between the tomato cages. As our move date edged closer and closer, I was tempted to pull up the zucchini to give the tomatoes a better shot. But I couldn't bring myself to do it, and so instead just kept trimming the dead leaves, weeding, diving and inhaling. The day we moved, I made Thomas bring in a couple of green tomatoes with the zucchini and basil. Every year growing up, my mother would make fried green tomatoes--lightly dipped in seasoned flour and fried to a pale, crisp gold. They were one of the bookends of my summers: Banana splits on the last day of school; fried green tomatoes just before we pulled the plants out at the end of the season.

I really miss our garden. We have plants on the deck in containers but it's not the same. And while Fresh Fields has nice produce, there is nothing like eating a warm tomato right off the vine--especially a vine that you watched grow from a 4" pot. And once again, I'm starting to feel my gardener's anxiety as the days begin to slip into autumn: the light has shifted; the comforters are back on the beds; and the last two evenings, I've smelled wood smoke from a neighboring fireplace.

Our landscaper won't start the plan for a couple of weeks yet and I can't bring myself to spend time in the yard because it cries out to be nurtured. The nurturing it needs is going to take a BobCat and a lot more time than I have in between errands, snacks and games of Go Fish, and more than Thomas has between work and sunset. According to a neighbor who has been here for 35 years, our yard has not been touched in at least 15 years.

Lest you think I exaggerate (of course I do, just not this time), this photo was taken in the spring. The green is the weeds, now a lovely straw color:

Friday, August 18, 2006

What Did You Call My Kid?

Last week, Charlotte had her evaluation for physical , occupational and speech therapies. I am sorry to say that she passed with flying colors--well, a "C" anyway: she has moderate delays in receptive language, expressive language and social/emotional, as well as a moderate delay in her gross and fine motor skills. So we're now looking for a program that can address all of those issues but, because of waiting lists, she'll probably end up going to at least two different programs.

So today I received the written evaluation, which included this passage:

"Charlotte is an adorable 19 month old girl. She loves spending time with her older sister and playing with the family dog. Charlotte enjoys looking at books. . . . Charlotte is a good sleeper and a god eater."

That's right. Our little girl is a god eater. They don't specify which one, or the manner in which he/she/it might be prepared, but there it is. Actually in triplicate and in a file that will spend 20 years in a locked facility once she has finished the program.

All this time and I had no idea that "Gah" was a menu request.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Yawn Heard Around the World

On July 26, London's Daily Mail published an article by Helen Kirwan-Taylor that seems to be causing almost as much of a stir as Linda Herschman's now-infamous "Homeward Bound." In the article, "Sorry But My Children Bore Me to Death" Kirwan-Taylor writes about her preference for a salon appointment to the boredom that surely awaits at play dates, birthday parties and even the occasional board game at home. It hit a nerve with its first publication and is now, courtesy of the Internet, swinging from the last nerves of S.A.H.Ms everywhere.

My first reaction: What the hell is her problem? My second was to wonder whether I was merely masking guilt for agreeing with parts of the message by getting angry with the messenger.

It pains me, but I will admit it: I DO get bored. There are some days I just want to lock myself away with a book and a hot cup of coffee. After all, there are only so many tea parties you can attend in one day, so many "sleep overs" right after breakfast, and so many games of Candyland you can play before your brain begins to turn to mush.

My follow up questions were:

  • Why do we work so hard to fulfill what we see as society's view of the proper role of mothers?
  • Why is it so hard to admit that we can't get all of our needs met by staying with our kids 24/7?
  • Why is it so difficult to give ourselves permission to find something outside of our children, something that let's us keep--or develop--a sense of self?
  • Why are we so quick to condemn the choices of other women?
Sadly, the last question might just be the easiest to answer: We do it because it validates our own choices; because it gives us a reason to change the subject raging in our own minds--did we do/are we doing the right thing--whatever our choice.

Every day I wake up to the challenge of balancing the girls' need for my attention with my need for space and peace and brain candy. And almost every day I lose at least a part of that battle. But I made the choice to be a S.A.H.M., and in so doing, I made a deal with myself that my girls would always know that they were loved and important and necessary. And for me, that means making myself available, even when I feel bored or frustrated. That's not to say that I think I need to spend every waking moment with them--I don't believe that's good for them or for me; I do want them to be independent after all. But that's another post.

Monday, August 14, 2006

A Penny From Heaven

My wonderful mother-in-law came for a long weekend, spoiled the girls, helped to rearrange the furniture and generally made everyone happier--as she always does. And, as always, I am inspired by her enthusiasm for life--family, work and her hobbies. She glows with it and it is contagious: I've almost stopped feeling the need to check into a rest home!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A Fitting Response

Of course, Bill himself would have been a bit more diplomatic, even with someone as far off the deep end as Ann Coulter.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Desperately Seeking Sanity

How do you know when you've been at a job for too long? I haven't had an office job for six years now, so I'm not sure I remember. There was something about irritability, short temper, chronic exhaustion, anxiety and the recurring daydream of being in some nice little rest home somewhere in a medically induced sleep being fed through a tube. As the song says, "Does that make me crazy?"

I've been a full-time mom for almost four years--that's the longest I've ever stayed at any one job. (I was at one company for 5.5 years, but dutifully climbed four rungs of the ladder there.) And the Mom-thing just seems to be getting harder lately. Part of it is because Hannah is in a very "I want, I want, I want" place right now and if she doesn't get her way, she loses it. Shopping mall, grocery store, restaurant, car . . . makes no difference. I'm always worried that someone is going to call the police because it must look like I'm forcing some random, screaming child into my car. Ah, good times!

Whether it's due to the stress of the move or just growing pains, Hannah has become a little--ok, a lot--clingier. Some days I literally cannot get her to let go of me. (There is a benefit to this since I don't have to sweep the floors on those days :) And the more she grabs, the more I see me slipping away. I can't have a thought that is my own or find a space that's mine--not even 10 minutes alone in the bathroom! I trip over the toys she won't put away and find a pile of stuffed animals sleeping in my bed every night. My shins are bruised from the kicking; my psyche from being told "I don't like you."

It's not that I want to quit my job. I don't--I love my job. Some days I just feel completely burned out. Crispy, fried and toast.

Thomas thinks we should get an ugly French au pair to help out. But Hannah starts school on September 6, so I'm going to stick it out. I just need to find a way to schedule the day so that we all get what we need. Which right now, means that "Me Time" falls between 11pm and 7am.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Updates and Other Random Bits

I've been a bit busy with unpacking and working on an actual paying job, so I'm cheating with an update on some earlier posts. Of course, some of you have asked for updates, so here goes:

  1. The elderly lady who freaked me out enough to call 911 was ok after all. She lives in a nursing home in San Jose and, apparently, our phone number was one digit different from that of a family member's phone number. The 911 operator was very nice about letting me know this--she must have been able to hear how upset I was when I called back. And I have heard from the woman again a couple of times--on voice mail but at least I know she's still out there.
  2. The Real (Estate) Diet--Eight pounds and counting! No food to buy, no fees to pay (well, except taxes, insurance, closing costs, etc.). Try it! Of course, I don't want to buy a new house every time I need to drop a few pounds.
  3. Hannah wanted to know why I went to the BlogHer conference by myself. I made the mistake of telling her that Mommy needed to spend time with grown ups and get some brain candy. So now she's all packed and ready to go next year so we can eat brain candy together.
  4. We've started interviewing landscapers to do something--anything--with the yard before the rainy season. (Otherwise, we might have to have mud sledding at the eventual house-warming.) Thomas and I will be doing a lot of the work and I'm going to be writing about the process, from the interviews to the plant tours and the digging and planting. Maybe even the swearing and throwing of rocks! Anyone know an editor at Sunset or HGTV?
  5. Charlotte had her first appointment in the evaluation process for speech and OT. Of course she started saying what sounded like actual words right after I made the appointment and even took two steps on her own, from my arms to Thomas. She meets with the pediatrician doing the actual evaluation on Thursday, so I fully expect her to be skipping through the house, reciting Shakespeare by Wednesday night.