Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Dog, Dooce, and Drink

Three Good Things for the day (and today was a rough day):

  1. I braved the biting cold and took Toby to the dog park for the second time this week.  I'm trying to make it a point to get him out more often.  The dog park is yet another wonderful discovery in our new neighborhood.

  2. I did some dooce archive reading.  Leta is now 2 years old and repeating the final word of her parents' sentences - just like Sam was doing a few months back.  Thank god for mommy-bloggers.

  3. I found a bottle of the same champagne we enjoyed so much for Christmas dinner with Adam's parents.  Happy New Year!

I Think We Have a Winner

The last Montessori school I visited is going to be our top choice.  I didn't get that, "this is the one" feeling when I observed the classroom, though - I thought the kids were flailing about too much and the environment wasn't quite as attractive as one of the other 2 options on my list.  But they do indeed respect the 3 hour work cycle, as advertised.  Actually, it turns out to be more like 2 1/2 hours, but that time is uninterupted. 

Another thing I noticed was that the older children at this school were using the math beads, the moveable alphabet, and other reading and math tasks.  I didn't see much of that at any of the other schools.

I'm a bit concerned about the ideological garbage at this school: environmentalism, multiculturalism, religion, and volunteerism.  They have one elementary class, and the kids "volunteer" at a soup kitchen or something.  The administrator spoke about how they try to get the kids to see that "it's not all about them - that they are just a part of a community."  This disturbs me, but I can't say it's any worse at this school than it would be anywhere. 

Our backup school is the one I that said felt cramped, but I ruled out the one with the more attractive environment because the tuition was quite a bit higher.

Now I have to figure out how in the world we can afford this.


Forgive me, Internet, for I have sinned.  It has been 44 days since my last confession.

I've grown to like Diane Rehm.  She's a radio host with a speech impediment.  For years that fact alone made me turn off NPR in disgust every time I heard her voice.  (I'll never get over the fact that at my very first real job, I worked with a legally deaf woman who was hired to answer the phone!)  Rehm is also an infuriating liberal.  But she is a good interviewer and I learn a lot from her show.  As long as I'm at it, I'll admit that I think Bill O'Reilly is a good interviewer too, despite his disgusting character and idiotic populist views.  I haven't watched his show in years, but I always thought he asked real questions, unlike so many "journalists" who elicit nothing of substance from their subjects, except what you already know.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Why do dogs think lotion is food?  At least cat poo has protein in it.

Good Things

Thanks to Jean Moroney for another simple, and hopefully valuable, idea: each day, write down three good things that happened in the last 24 hours.  I can always use a little help staying on the positive side, so I think I'll try it here on the blog for a while.  In the last 24 hours:

  1. I took Sam to our local library for the first time and it turned out to be a beautiful new building with a great selection of books.  I love our new neighborhood.

  2. I took Sam to our local (indoor) pool for the first time, and again, it was a nice, clean facility and we had a blast.

  3. I watched a movie that goes on my Top 50 List for sure: The Man Who Would Be King.  What a grand adventure!  And how can you go wrong with Sean Connery and Michael Caine?

Sunday, December 28, 2008


It finally happened!  Somebody found my blog by searching for "how to clean moss off of a sidewalk."



A few years back we almost had the chance to live in Alaska for a year, and now that I've lived in 8 cities in 7 different states, I'm so glad we ended up in New Orleans instead.

When we lived in Michigan we missed the sun during winter.  It was cloudy most days, and when the sun did come out, it just meant that it would be colder than usual because there were no clouds to hold in the heat.  The sun had no power to warm.  You couldn't feel it on your skin at all - you only knew it was there by looking.  Chocolate and cozy fires a few times a week got us through until April, when we'd start to feel like winter was over.

Here in Virginia I still hate the shortened days and chilly weather, but it is 68 degrees right now!  Even on cold days, when the sun is out it is powerful enough to warm up the inside of your car a bit.  You have a chance to soak up that energy and to produce some vitamin D.

The weather in Florida ranged from about 60-80 degrees while we were there.  It rained once, but otherwise, the sun was shining.  It was HOT.  It felt like summer.  I had to move into the shade after a half hour of sunning because I got overheated.  It was heavenly.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Bananagrams and the Ghost

This was the Christmas of Bananagrams and Finding the Ghost.

Bananagrams is Scrabble on speed.  You use the same kind of tile letters as in Scrabble, but you don't use a board and you don't keep score.  You start with about 15-20 tiles (depending on how many players) and just start building words in a crossword pattern.  There are no points for using uncommon letters - it's all about using them up.  When a player uses up his initial set of tiles, he shouts "PEEL" and then everyone, including the peeler, picks up one more tile and tries to finish again.  There are 144 tiles so the peeling is a big part of the game.  When you build a good base, you can add single letters to your board as quickly as you can pick them up, so the peeling can be a real thrill.  When there are no more tiles to peel, the next player to use up his letters wins.  You can also play Banana Smoothie where you simply divide up all the letters at the start and try to be the first one to use them up.

I think the best thing about Bananagrams is that everybody plays at once, unlike Scrabble, where you spend a lot of the time just waiting your turn.  The game can be serious or raucous depending on your mood, the concept and the rules are simple, it's super-portable (just a bag with tiles in it), and you can play with only 2 people if you want to.  Just like Scrabble, you get the pleasure of using your mind - concentrating, being creative, and drawing upon a huge storehouse of knowledge.  And the feedback is immediate - win or lose - but completely inconsequential to your success in life. 

Thanks to Adam's sis (is that a word? I need a Scrabble dictionary) for introducing us to this fabulous game!  The adults played it endlessly the whole week. 

Samantha and her second-cousin (cousin-once-removed?) had their own game: Find the Ghost.  It was nothing more than hide and seek - another game that has a simple concept.  Adam's dad had joked about their new house having ghosts, so when the ten-year-old cousin gave me a wink and then snuck upstairs, I told Sam to go find the ghost.  That girl is a master hider!  The girls had so much fun with this game that the first thing Sam said the next morning was FIND GHOST FIND GHOST, as if she had been dreaming about it all night. 

Games are fun.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

We're having a wonderful Christmas in sunny Florida with my in-laws.  I've been swimming twice, ridden on two killer roller coasters, seen some tigers, read two popular novels, and have been introduced to the greatest game since Pictionary.  I took a nap today, too.  Hallelujah!

And I have showered and washed my hair 7 straight days in a row.  I hadn't been keeping track, but I'm fairly certain that that is the record since Sam was born 2 years, 3 months, and 23 days ago.

More details to come...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

OK - One more post before Christmas

I'll never hear YYZ the same way again.  I thought we were supposed to think that Rush was an amazing band for making all this sound with only THREE musicians!


(via list of the day)

Friday, December 19, 2008


Luckily, we will be having Christmas this year.  We're going to Florida to visit Adam's parents.  We managed to put up a few little Christmas decorations around the house, but no tree or outside lights.  Santa will come while we are gone and leave a few things.

This is the third year in a row that we'll be away for Christmas.  We visited Adam's parents in St. Louis for Sam's first Christmas, then last year we were literally homeless, in between living in San Diego and Lexington, so we stayed at our super-great friends' house in Richmond.  My mom pointed out that these early years are really the best time to take Sam to other places for Christmas - when she gets older it will be more important to stay home. 

I finished my "Christmas shopping" today.  We managed to make zero Christmas shopping trips by picking up items here and there along the way.  Besides Christmas cards (which I'm very proud to say that we got out in early December) we didn't buy a single thing for anybody other than Sam.  I picked up stocking stuffers at Target (where I've been 4 times in the past 3 weeks for stuff we need for the house) and Adam picked out the big-ticket item at Ikea: an easel which has paper, chalkboard, and whiteboard.  I know she'll get some nice things from the grandparents and maybe a couple of friends, and that is enough.

I'm looking forward to the vacation.  I really need a break and I'm hoping the grandparents will take over and let me sleep in a few days.  I probably won't blog while we're gone, so I'll take this opportunity to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas.  Get off your computers and go play with your kids!

Little Samantha

This was the first song we made up for Sam. 

Sing this to the tune of You Are My Sunshine:

Little Samantha
Little Samantha
We really love you
Yes we do
We really love you
Little Samantha
Your pee, your puke and your poo

Chew Your Food

Sing this to the tune of Three Blind Mice:

Chew your food
Chew your food
Chew your food
Chew your food
Chomp it up like a good dinosaur
After you swallow you can let out a roar
And if you're still hungry you can have some more
Chew your food

It's Not a Problem, it's an Opportunity

I'm having a real problem with time sickness again.  Any time I'm doing something that is either purely for myself (taking a shower, eating, writing in my blog) or where my body is occupied but my mind is not (doing dishes, driving, letting out the dog) I feel panic setting in.  All I can think about is how many other things I need to do, and that I should be doing them and not what I'm doing now.

This is nothing new, and it's entirely predictable that it would crop up again while we're in this "moving in" stage.  As a matter of fact, when I looked up the entry I just linked to, I saw that it was about one month after our last move.   That's about where we are now.  It's true that I can barely keep my head above water at the moment, but getting all worked up about it doesn't solve anything.  I also keep forgetting to recognize all the things that I have accomplished, and I allow myself to wallow in the, "I'll never get out of this hole" mode of thinking.  I wonder where my youthful confidence went - the feeling that as long as I'm working hard and doing the right thing, that things will work out ok.  They always have.

Intellectually, at least, I know what my problem is, but it's still very hard to snap out of it.  But the cheesy phrase I used as the title of this post actually does help, as does writing about it.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Little Thing

Santa Claus came to ask all the children at Samantha's school what they wanted for Christmas.  The teacher made a list to keep track.  One kid wanted a pony.  Another wanted a race car.  One sad child wanted his mommy for Christmas.

Sam wanted a book.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Monday, December 15, 2008

Dog Park Alert!

There is a dog park across the street from my house!

It was about 60 degrees out today so I took the girl and the dog across the street to explore this park.  From the street it just looks like this big grassy area - no play equipment or basketball courts - just grass and some bushes.  I thought there must be something behind those bushes but an off-leash dog park never crossed my mind.  But there it was, like a Christmas bonus for my buddy. (Sam already has a playground in our development and a kiddie park one block away.)

Toby and Flash (Secret Lovers)I couldn't let Toby in today since I had Sam with me, but I see many fun weekend afternoons in our future.  I'm so happy for Toby.  He's never gotten over having to leave our hilltop home in Lexington, where he roamed free with the cows and horses.  Here he is with his favorite, Flash.  They would chase each other along that fence while the other two huffed and pretended they didn't know those two goofs.  We took to singing, "Secret Lovers" every time they played.  Ahh, I miss that place too.

Highly Opinionated

When Samantha was born, both the midwife who helped me deliver her and Sam's pediatrician used the same phrase to describe her: highly opinionated.  Even though Adam and I didn't mind the idea of a highly opinionated child (in fact we bragged a bit!), we never saw it.  She seemed like a pretty average baby, and in some ways, pretty easy - sleeping through the night at 10 weeks and adapting to all kinds of new situations with relative ease.

I don't know what those experts could see in a newborn, but recently, their predictions have come true.  Sam has reached the developmental stage where she is asserting her own will.  This has been building for weeks, but she really hit her stride in the past week.  And as always, the biggest challenge of parenting, (given that you have some good basic principles) is keeping up with the changes.

Sam is using every trick in the book to get our attention or to see what she can get away with.  When I give her a two-option choice, she says, "A," and then as soon as I start to act on it, she says, "B."  By the time I realized that this was not cute, I had already accepted it as normal and it never hit me to change how I react. 

She has started to scream for hours most nights.  At first I thought it was nightmares and I would go in to comfort her, but we've been through this whole cycle before and the solution is always to stop going in. We stopped going in about 5 days ago and we had one quiet night, but now she's back to marathon crying.  I'm not sure how she has any voice left.

She started refusing to look at us when we talk, especially after a time-out when we'd talk to her about what she did wrong.  Adam actually made some good headway on this issue by giving her a series of about 20 time-outs until she looked at him when he talked.  But it's still a problem.

She's been crying wolf with the "boo-boos."  When brushing her teeth, she points to her mouth and says "boo-boo."  When she wants to delay putting on her coat just one more minute, she finds a bruise or scrape and says, "boo-boo."  And when all else fails, she hurts herself.  She'll fall out of a chair or run into something, and yesterday, she took hold of a table leg with both hands and slammed her forehead into it.  This was right after she tripped over the rug and banged her eye on Adam's elbow, which was right after a 45 minute time-out session where she threw herself out of the chair about 100 times, and just prior to puking up her first bite of dinner because she had been crying so long and hard she couldn't hold down food.

Because we've been moving, I haven't been able to keep up with these changes.  But Adam and I both knew we had to change something after this weekend, and after talking about it, we're going to crack down with the time-outs.  We were very consistent with using time-outs for hitting and she completely stopped that.  Since then, I've tried to use the time-out only for heinous behavior, but as her behavior has gotten worse, I've raised the standard of heinous for fear of giving too many time-outs.  This is not the way to do it.  There need to be firm standards for her behavior, and more time-outs will lead to less time-outs (I hope).  We've decided to give time-outs for:

  • Any type of physical force: hitting, pushing, biting, etc.

  • Not following instructions after a maximum of 2 repetitions plus one warning. 

  • Screaming or yelling in response to a question after one warning to speak nicely.

We've also decided to renew our commitment to ignoring her when she gets hurt.  This is extremely difficult to do and I used to be very good at it.  But lately I've been trying to comfort her more since I worry about her being unsettled from the move.  WRONG.  As Adam pointed out, the best thing we can do to help her through the chaos of the move is to remain consistent.  And I'm scared enough by the head-banging to stop worrying about whether she needs a hug.

Another reason my efforts at discipline are degenerating is that I have not been clear on whether or not I should expect obedience from her.  Up until now, we've tried to mostly use distraction and playing games to get her to cooperate, so I haven't had to really face the issue of obedience - the dreaded, YOU MUST DO IT BECAUSE I SAID SO.  But at this age, Sam must obey.  We give her explanations and always speak to her with respect.  We do not bark orders at her.  We give her choices.  We give her time to process what we say and we give her warnings that a change will be coming up (3 more times down the slide then we leave the playground, etc.).  But there are no games or distractions that will get Sam to cooperate with a diaper change or put on her coat anymore if she decides not to.  Her whole purpose right now is to try NOT to do what we say, just to see if she can get away with it.  She knows when I'm weak or hesitant to give a time out, and that's when she tests me.  Still, I don't like the word, "obey."  Yesterday I coined the term, "listen and do."  Sam is now required to "listen and do," and when we talk to her about it, we explain how she needs to listen with her ears, understand with her mind, and do with her body.

I really have no idea if Samantha is any more opinionated than other children her age.  But I do know that if there is a difference, it's just a matter of degree.  This defiance is natural and necessary.  And it's our job as parents to guide her towards independence within boundaries.  Wish us luck!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Nora, The Piano Playing Cat

This is Nora.  Her servants are my aunt and uncle-in-law, Betsy and Burnell.  Betsy is a Suzuki Method piano teacher and has given us some great tips for fostering Samantha's love of the piano.  They also gave us Nora's book, which Sam absolutely loves.

You might find something a bit familiar about 36 seconds into the video.



Friday, December 12, 2008

A Little Thing

I'm wearing my contact lenses for the first time since I got that series of colds that lasted, I kid you not, 70 days.  Actually, I put the lenses in once when I thought I was getting better but I had to take them out after a couple of hours when the eye boogies took over.  What a relief to take off those glasses!  Soft contact lenses are definitely one of the blessings of our modern age. 

The concept of the contact lens was first proposed by none other than Leonardo da Vinci.  (What a great mind!)  Hard glass lenses were in use in the late 19th century, but I'm not sure by whom - it must have been torture to wear them.  It was in the 1940's that all-plastic lenses were invented, but they were still very uncomfortable.  The men we have to thank for today's modern lenses are Czechoslovakian chemist Otto Wichterle and his assistant, Dr. Drahoslav Lim.  They invented the lenses in the late fifties and some countries were using the product in the sixties, but of course, the FDA did not approve the hydrogel or "Softlens" material for use in the U.S. until 1971, when Bausch & Lomb introduced the first commercially available soft contact lens here.  Dr. Lim actually invented the soft, water absorbing plastic they used, hydroxyethyl methacrylate (HEMA).  Another great leap forward thanks to materials innovation! (Summarized from this, this and this.)

I'm sure many of you are thinking that the contact lens is old news and I should be writing about vision correction surgery.  But I write about the Little Things that are important to me, and I'm not a good candidate for LASIK or other corrective surgery since I only have one working eye and so no room for error.  Besides, I thought it was an interesting history.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Montessori Observations

I've now observed 4 Montessori schools.  The plan is for Samantha to start school next fall, which means I have to decide on a school and register her sometime between January and March.  Unfortunately, I've been at least a little bit disappointed with all the schools I've seen so far.  I've ruled out 2 schools, one of which ended up being too far away and one which was Montessori-lite and charged about 30% more than average to boot. 

Both of the others are acceptable.  They use Montessori materials and set up the classrooms attractively and properly.  The students at both schools acted independently, choosing their own work, focusing, and respecting the other children.  However, neither school has a true 3 hour work cycle.  Between the "occasional" Spanish class, art time, birthday parties, holiday celebrations, circle time, lunch time, and outside time, the time spent on the "work" of the Montessori method is fragmented.  At one school I also felt the classroom was too cramped and cluttered, and at the other, that the teachers were a bit too involved in the childrens' work.  Of course, both schools propagandize the kids with religion and environmentalism, but not to an extent that I would reject them. 

Today I found a school that I'm really excited about.  I'm going to observe the classroom on Monday.  This school actually explains and defends the 3 hour work cycle on its web site.  Pictures of the classrooms bode well.  It has reasonable tuition and no other glaring problems.  I've got a feeling about this one and I can't wait to see it.  It's so exciting to be working on this aspect of Samantha's future!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Here's another one:  Why do people use placemats?  Is it supposed to be easier to clean the placemat than the table?  I can understand a tablecloth, but only if you have an ugly table.  If it's a nice table, don't you want to see it?  This all seems to be one step away from covering your furniture in plastic.

A Little Thing

Now that we have 2 sinks in our master bathroom again, it's not ridiculous for me and my husband to each use our own favorite brand of toothpaste.

Monday, December 8, 2008


Does anybody iron their clothes anymore?  I've never ironed and yes, my clothes are wrinkled some of the time (but not often, thanks to this).  But, seriously, after sorting, washing, and drying clothes, does anyone really get out an ironing board and an iron, put water in it, wait for it to heat up, and spend multiple minutes per item making them just perfect, then folding or hanging?  And I've heard a rumor that some people actually iron their sheets!  What planet do they live on?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

When Supergluing Your Fingers Together is Not a Mistake

Ever since my first real winter in Chicago 1999-2000 (I grew up in Los Angeles), I've had terrible problems with dry skin.  In Chicago, my heels cracked so badly they bled, which was painful enough, but last winter my fingers started splitting.  Right where the edge of the nail meets the finger I got these deep cuts.  Two of my favorite activities, writing (typing) and cooking, became torture.  It started up again about a week ago and was so bad I decided to try my father's trick - Superglue.  Yes, I glued my fingers back together.  It works!

Home Improvements

We've lived in our new home for one week now and we've been busy.  Well, our handyman has been busy and I'm exhausted from monitoring him.  So far we've:

  • replaced the carpet

  • painted Samantha's room

  • replaced the kitchen faucet

  • replaced the garbage disposal

  • installed a light switch in the basement storage room

  • replaced all the rotten wood trim on the front windows and fixed the leak that caused it

  • caulked a cracked front step

  • reset some of the tile in the basement shower

  • fixed a broken kitchen cabinet

  • cleaned the chimney

  • cleaned the dryer vent (which was so full of lint that the dryer did not work)

There are only a few more urgent things on the list, plus unpacking and cleaning.  We're feeling secure enough that we decided to go to Florida for Christmas with Adam's folks.  Now, if only I could find the towels so that I can change out this one I've been using for over 2 weeks...

Reading List

The absence of an imminent move has made me feel ambitious again.  For close to 2 years, I've told myself, "no, not now," to so many of the values I want to pursue.  I was afraid it would become a habit, but the moment we moved I felt a weight lifting and an excitement brewing.

I thought my to do list was long before, but now it's growing like mad.  The difference is that the things on my list now will advance my life instead of just maintaining it.

One thing that's going back on my list is a big project called getting a Western Civ education.  I have temporary but open-ended custody of the Great Books of the Western World series (thanks, Stace!).  I started reading straight from the ten year plan about ten years ago, but dropped it...well, when we moved from Chicago to New Orleans.  Three things have inspired me to start up again:  1) I heard an interview with this guy on NPR and he talked about St. Johns College where they have a Great Books program, 2) We unpacked our series and put it back up on our bookshelves, and 3) I ran across this reading challenge and thought that I can finally get organized about reading again too.

Let life begin again!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Little Thing

Our new neighborhood is pretty upscale and I must say, it is a pleasure to shop in a decent grocery store again.  Our old neighborhood was fine but for some reason the supermarkets were horrible.  I have a new appreciation for all the services my new store provides.  They keep the shopping carts inside so you don't freeze your hands.  They have cart return caddies in the parking lot.  The aisles are wide enough for 3 carts.  And there is a Starbucks inside.  Heaven.

Prepared Environment

I'm in my third home since I took my course with Cornelia Lockitch and learned about the Montessori principle of the prepared environment.  In the first house, I did things like set up a "shoe basket" for Sam to put her shoes away in, but not much else since Sam was just starting to walk and we were moving in a few months.  In the second, I set up the basement as Sam's playroom, putting her toys on shelves at her level and buying some kid-sized furniture.  I put my office there too, so that we could both "work" at the same time.

This time, I'm trying something new.  I'm integrating Sam even more into our household set up.  We are in a three-level townhouse again, which really chops up the living area.  But instead of relegating Sam to the basement, I've made the dining room her main play area, with our dining table in the eat-in kitchen (much more convenient anyway).  Since I need to have access to my computer in small bursts as well as long stretches, I have to have it on the main level of the house where we spend most of our time.  The basement did not work for me in the last house - it was just too much trouble to go down there, and I ended up using an old laptop in the kitchen most of the time.  The need for an office on the main level sparked the idea to make our living room a "library" instead of primarily a TV room. 

Adam and I do like to watch TV and movies, but we do it almost exclusively after Samantha is asleep for the night.  We don't leave the TV on while we are doing other things - we decide to watch and we make an event of it.  It makes so much more sense to put the TV in the basement.  We even have an extra refrigerator and microwave down there.

Our living room now houses my office and all of our books.  Luckily it's a big room!  Adam has so many books and he loves to see them out on display.  Although we'll still keep most of Sam's books in her bedroom where we do most of our reading, we are setting aside one shelf of each bookcase for her in the living room.  I think this will become even more important as she gets older.  We plan to get some cozy reading chairs, which will also serve to make the room work for those rare times when we invite people over.  Still, it's not a formal living room because it is open to the playroom (or should I call it Sam's living room?) and there will be toys in view.  Oh, horror!  We have a child and there are toys in the house!  What about clutter and toy encroachment?  Well, part of the principle of the prepared environment is that the child should respect the order of the house and keep toys in their proper places.  Having them in the main area of the house forces that issue for all of us.  I'll be sure to post updates about how I set up the play area and how it is working.  Right now it's just full of boxes.

Sticking the child's area into a back room or basement may be necessary in some cases, but I think you need to be careful about why you are doing it.  Are you acting on the premise that your child is a less important member of the household?  Are you keeping the toys away from public areas so that you don't need to teach your child to clean up, or because of some idea that toys are unsightly?

I'm very excited about this new set up.  I think it will change the way we live.  I think it shows respect for Samantha.  I think it reflects my own family's values instead of some second-handed idea of what a house should look like.

And there is still an extra room that I can turn into a classroom when the time comes.  Yipee!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

It's All About Values

Two years old is not too young for an Advent calendar.  Sam has already been "counting," meaning that she parrots the sounds, one-two-three, etc.  She definitely knows the concepts "one" and "two."  I have a feeling that she's going to be focused on learning her numbers this month, now that chocolate is involved.  It's all about values.

The Sam Update - Twenty Seven Months Old

SamThis is supposed to be the big quarterly update with multiple photos, but since we're unpacking I'm glad to simply say that Samantha is handling all the chaos like a champ.  She loves the new house and on her first day at her new daycare, she napped and ate and had a great time.  What a great kid!

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Grand Finale

We're homeowners again!  I am so tired of moving around and renting.  I've really felt homeless since we left Michigan 17 months ago.

Of course, the last week has been hell. 

Thursday: My agent reminds me that I need certified funds for closing.  We use ETrade which does not have branches so that means a wire transfer.  I get the instructions from the title company, print out the ETrade wire transfer form and fill it out.  The cold that I've had since October 2 (not kidding!) takes a turn for the worse and I get a very sore throat.  Meanwhile, Sam has diarrhea and is getting a bad cold sore.

Friday afternoon: I fax the wire transfer form to ETrade for a Monday transfer. 

Friday night: We learn that ETrade is close to bankruptcy and worry all weekend about whether our money will be there on Monday.

Monday morning:  I wake up 2 hours early because Sam had another nightmare.  She's been doing fine with the chaos while awake, but the stress comes out in her dreams.  She fell back asleep but I didn't.  Later, I check my bank account and the money is still sitting there.  I call ETrade to check and they tell me, "We do not do third party wire transfers."  I know it's a lie but what can I do?  After a few panicked phone calls, I find that our title company will accept a personal check.  Again, kudos to our real estate agent, Sharon Chamberlin, for working with good people.

Monday afternoon:  Seller doesn't show up for settlement.  Duh, he went to the wrong office.  Yeah, right.  Luckily, we were able to close via fax and the upside was that we never had to see his stinking face.  We have a house, yea!

Later Monday afternoon: The wire transfer goes through.  NO!  If the title company has already put my check in the bank, I'm toast.  More panicked phone calls.  The wonderful woman who did our closing actually noticed that the funds were wired and hadn't deposited the check.  Still, I had to drive out to their office to pay a small balance due and get my first check back.  But not before loading up my car with the first of the moving boxes, picking up Sam from day care (where she did not nap at all), meeting the handyman at the new house to get a quote on some small jobs, and finding that the extra set of keys the seller promised to leave under the mat were not there.  The worst part of that day was that Sam was just miserable, falling asleep in the car just as we'd arrive somewhere and having to wake right back up.  Not good for a borderline-sick child. 

Tuesday:  The plan was to move as much stuff to the new house as possible and monitor the installation of new carpet.  The carpet got installed and we did move some things, but Adam also had to spend 6 hours on IV fluids after puking his guts out all morning.  I've never seen him so sick.  Definitely in the Top Ten Worst Days of My Life.

Tuesday night:  My turn.  I got a much milder case of it.  Still, it kept me up until 2am because it takes much concentration to NOT vomit.  Must never, ever vomit.  Stay awake all night and focus, but do not vomit.

Wednesday:  We moved more stuff and got our Internet and cable hooked up.  Adam painted Sam's room.  It was Sam's last day at her current day care and saying goodbye was very emotional for both of us.  I don't think anything horrendous happened.  Oh, except that we were moving, which is one of the most horrendous things in life to begin with.

Thursday:  More packing, painting, and moving.  Brief Thanksgiving with friends which was the highlight of the week.  Up until 2am packing boxes in preparation for the moving company's arrival the next morning.

Friday:  Official moving day.  We hadn't packed as much as we'd hoped due to all the illness, but we had done amazingly well, considering.  We knew the movers could pack up the last of our stuff and we'd just have to pay a bit extra for the supplies they provided plus extra time.  The biggest challenge seemed to be waking up at 7am.  In the end, this moving company stole about $2,000 from us.  I can't describe it any other way.  They wrapped a plastic toy mirror in bubble wrap and said it cost $19.  I'm not kidding.  They held our stuff hostage until we paid.  We knew they had the power to do it - this happens with moving companies all the time (although I had done so much research on this one and I've moved so many times that I thought I was smart enough to avoid these problems).  If they say, "Pay me or we'll keep your stuff," you pretty much have to pay whatever they ask.  After an hour of phone calls trying to resolve it with a manager, we decided to pay but to note on the contract and credit card receipt that we were paying under protest.  They would not accept this and demanded payment with NO changes on their documents before they would release our goods.  We had to call the police out to our new home on our first night here to get these bastards to allow us to pay the extortion, but with a stinking note on the paperwork.  After the officer made them allow it, I went with the mover into the kitchen to find a horizontal surface to use to sign.  With no shame, with the officer in the next room, this slimebag tried to get me to sign a separate document which signed away all my rights to dispute the charges at a later date.  I brought it to the officer, who forced the mover to call his supervisor to allow us to get our stuff without signing such a document.  Of course, we had to pay the moving company for the 2.5 hours it took to resolve the whole dispute.  Then, at the end, these immoral creatures kept a few boxes in the truck and made us pay another $150 before they'd release them.  We were too tired to call the cops again, and what's the difference between being reamed to the tune of $2,150 versus $2,000 anyway?  THIS MOVING COMPANY IS CALLED METRO VAN LINES LLC OPERATED OUT OF ROCKVILLE MARYLAND DOT NUMBER 1496324.  DO NOT USE THEM IF YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT.

Friday night:  Drinking champagne (finally!) and loving our new home.  Thanks for listening to my rant.

A Little Thing

I got the greatest satisfaction just now in moving my nightstand just a little bit closer to the bed - because I like it that way - and because it was worth the trouble since I am going to live here for more than just a few months.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

In the Spirit of the Day

I am thankful that Samantha has not yet figured out that it might be fun to open the toilet seat and put objects other than waste in there.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


How do people get their little girls to wear clips and bows in their hair?  Sam is developing quite a mullet since the only way we can keep the hair out of her face is to keep cutting off the front part.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Chain Blogging

Ok, so BAW didn't really tag me, but I don't have friends either and I can't resist a game where I get to write about my favorite subject: me!  Also, I'm desperate for easy ways to promote my blog.

Here are the rules:

Link to the person who tagged you.
Post the rules on your blog.
Write 6 random things about yourself.
Tag 6-ish people at the end of your post.
Let each person know he/she has been tagged.
Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

1.  One of my biggest hopes is that before I die, I will be able to slip the surly bonds of earth, to touch the face of my own god.  I want to see the Earth from space.  Thank you, Carl Sagan, for helping me hone my reverence for the mind of man. 

2.  I can't see out of my right eye.  Actually, I can see a little bit, but that eye is legally blind.  I have a birth defect in my optic nerve and most of what I see is dark and there is a huge gap in the visual field.  With my good eye closed I can walk around without running into walls, and I can even tell you how many fingers you are holding up, but I can't read.  I couldn't even read the big E on the eye chart if I didn't know what it was.  I was curious about this because that big E is bigger than fingers held up a couple of feet away, and it only has four elements while a handful of fingers has five.  Why can't I tell that it is an E?  I decided to practice reading with my bad eye.  I used a word processing program to make a column of random letters, one letter per screen.  At first I could not identify any of them, but after a bit of practice I started getting some right.  After about a half hour I could get any letter or number, so I reduced the font size.  I spent another half hour working on it and eventually hit a wall with how small I could go.  I also was unable to identify any letters when they were in a horizontal row.  They had to have enough space around them or it just looked like random lines on the screen.  When I had had enough I opened my good eye again and I'll tell you, I had the worst headache ever.   Obviously, I was exercising my brain, not my eye.  My mind had to learn how to connect the sense data from the eye to something it could recognize as a percept.  Since I had never used my right eye to do this before, it had to be learned, just like a baby learns (automatically).  There may be some truth to the idea that humans who are deprived of sense data early in life are never able to learn to process certain data later, but I proved to myself that there are some neural pathways that can be forged as an adult.  It was a fascinating experiment but that headache was so bad I never tried it again.  I get along just fine with one eye.

3.  I'm a Valley Girl.  Like ohmigod, fer sher, I'm really from The Valley, ya' know.

4.  I dropped out of college my first time around.

5.  I named my first cat Geddy, after Geddy Lee of Rush.

6.  One of my biggest regrets is that I never made good on my dad's offer of $1,000 if I could learn how to play Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto.  I still hope to play it someday.

Woohoo!  That was fun!  I also had a lot of fun reading back through the chain.  I loved the one about the physics major who was convinced that time travel would not be invented in his lifetime because otherwise his future self would have come back to tell his present self.  Ha!

I hope these folks join in:

Rational Jenn
Diana Hsieh

Eternal Vigilance

Today I signed off on the homeowner association documents for our new townhouse.  I certainly didn't want to read the entire package, but I did look at every line item on the financial reports,  checked the reserves, reviewed the rules, and noted the level of detail in planning for future expenditures.  Everything met with my approval.

I turned in the documents, and came home to this amazing story from Rational Jenn.  $600,000 stolen from her HOA - holy crap!

I've been involved with 2 HOA's prior to this purchase, and I know exactly what Jenn means about how you just want to pay your fee and be left alone - the whole idea of these communities is a bit too collectivist for my taste, and that makes me loath to get involved.  But in my first HOA, which consisted of only 5 homes, I had to take over the accounting and arrange for maintenance because nobody else would get off their lazy butts to do it.  I hated every minute of it and I didn't do a good job, but I left it a bit more organized than I found it.  My second HOA was a brand new one for an apartment building that went condo in downtown Chicago.  The developer didn't honor his commitments in upgrading the common areas and we lived for over a year with hallways half-painted and wallpaper half-removed because somebody decided the color was wrong in the middle of the job.  When we complained at meetings, other homeowners told us to pipe down because it would all get done eventually and didn't we want it done right and what can we do about it anyway when the contract states that the developer has "reasonable time" to do these things?  When we spoke to the developer about his neglect in completing promised work, he told us, "Sue me."  We moved.

Jenn's analogy to being politically and ideologically active is apt.  When things get messy in our culture and with our national government, I tend to tune out.  I tuned out for most of the Clinton administration and I've been only half tuned-in for the past few years since GWB turned into the worst president in my lifetime.

This is a mistake.  Facing up to these distasteful issues is a matter of selfishness.  In the short run, it might seem wise to avoid the pain of paying attention, but you'll pay a price in the long run.  I can't say it more eloquently than Jenn did, so I'll quote her:
... When people don't pay attention, coast through life, the people to whom we've delegated power over our lives may take advantage of us. And they might even look us directly in the eye, and smile at us while they're doing it.

I seem to be doing a good job at the community level, but I hereby recommit myself to, at minimum, paying attention to current events at the state, national, and international levels.  At some point I may do more, but I've got to start somewhere.  Thanks for getting me up off my own lazy butt, Jenn.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

House Hunting Odyssey

I've made most of the arrangements necessary for our move and the packing is on track.  We're moving on 11/28 - the day after Thanksgiving.  Luckily, some good friends in town have invited us for a quick Thanksgiving dinner and we won't have to do more than bring a store-bought pie.  We'll probably be painting that morning and packing more boxes that night. 

Aside from being Sam's mom, house hunting has been my dominant activity for the past few months.  It's been so frustrating not to be able to write about it, but we had to break our lease and so didn't want to go public.  Our landlords here have treated us so well and we're working closely with them to re-rent their home.  It was a risk to rent a townhouse privately, but it worked out better than we could have hoped.  Thanks J and L!

Our house hunting adventure started with exploring a huge area of northern Virginia by car.  We spent about 5 weekends just driving around and looking at a few open houses.  Samantha was a real trooper, although the portable DVD player we said we'd never buy was a big help.  We found that there were only a few neighborhoods in our price range that would meet our basic needs.  A regular detached house was pretty much out of the question, although we did look at a few.  The next option in this area is the townhouse, like the one we are renting now.  I despise living on 3 levels and not having windows on 2 sides of the house, but other than that, the townhouses here are pretty nice (and low maintenance!)  A commute was also going to be necessary, as the area around Adam's job carries California-like prices, and the next ring around that is a slum.

The whole point of starting the house hunting early was to give us time to make a large quantity of low-ball offers, in the hopes of getting a good deal.  We saw a house we really liked, so before we even had a real estate agent we decided to make an offer on our own, working directly with the seller's agent.  This turned out to be a waste of time.  She was supposed to represent both us and the seller, but after 3 meetings with her we realized that we could not trust her, and decided to get an agent.  In the meantime, that house went under contract.  That was ok with us - we knew we had only a slim chance of getting it in the first place, and we were determined not to get emotionally involved in any offers we made.

We know a lot of people who have purchased homes here recently and could have referred us to their agents, but for some reason we decided to use an agent we met at another property and had liked.  I just don't know what possessed us - it was a bad decision.  This agent was helpful in the house hunting process, but once we started making offers we realized she was incompetent and dishonest.  At one point, we had 2 offers outstanding because she neglected to revoke one before we made the next.  If both sellers had accepted those offers, we would have been on the hook to buy 2 houses!  Besides that, this agent had no idea how to be an advocate for us in the negotiation process.  She seemed to feel it was her job to convince us to spend as much money as possible.  We fired her after the 2-offer incident.  We hired a new agent on the recommendation of a friend, and we've been pretty happy with her.

During this whole process, the credit crisis hit.  I was on the phone with our mortgage broker almost daily, trying to keep up with interest rates, down-payment requirements, increasing mortgage insurance costs, and stricter lending practices.  It was a real nightmare.  There were days that we decided to make an offer, but by the time we got the paperwork done we could afford to pay 10% more.  Remember, we were making very low offers on all these properties, so we were trying to offer as much as we could afford at any given point in time.  One day we were all set to make an offer and suddenly every single mortgage insurer decided they would not insure 95% loans.  We could not put more than 5% down, so this basically killed any chance at buying.  We resigned ourselves to renting indefinitely.  A few days later, our broker found that FHA loan rates had come down, and they only required 5% down, so we could manage that way.  We got a lock on that and were about to make another offer when we found the house we ended up buying. 

We called it the "comparison townhouse" because it was in the same neighborhood as the original one we were interested in, was listed for $10K less, and the ad said it had more updates.  We decided to go look at it so that we could use it as a reason to convince the seller of the original house that she was overpriced.  When we saw it we were blown away.  It had a great open floorplan, 4 bedrooms instead of 3, and although it needed some work, was in better shape overall than the first house.  We realized that this was no exercise, but the perfect house for us!

Needless to say, after much haggling, we closed the deal, but not without more nightmarish hassles.  The owner of the house is a real estate agent representing himself and tried to pull every dishonest trick in the book.  We thought we had a ratified contract at one point, only to find out 4 days later that he had never signed 2 pages.  Our new real estate agent isn't perfect either - she told us specifically that he had signed the whole offer (as we were driving to Pennsylvania for my grandmother's funeral) so when Adam and I noticed the missing pages we assumed that they had gotten lost between our agent and us, not that they were never there.  We actually did the home inspection before we had a signed offer, so if he had backed out, we would have lost $450.  He tried everything he could to use this against us, but finally, our agent did her job and got this bastard to sign the papers.  Whew!

A few days after that got resolved, our mortgage broker stopped returning our calls.  When I finally cornered her, she admitted that she could not honor the rate-lock agreement we had made because the rules had changed again.  I'm not sure if she was dishonest or simply incapable of keeping up with the insanity in her industry, but we had to fire her and get a new loan.  I can't tell you how frightening this was.  It's bad enough when this sort of thing happens in a normal market, but with the uncertainty that we had already experienced we thought for sure that we were toast.  Once again, our real estate agent came through for us with some options, and we ended up getting a good loan that is costing us about the same as we had anticipated. 

Since then, things have gone more smoothly.  The home inspection showed that the house is in good shape (although we did find out that the seller lied more than once in the MLS advertisement.)  There were renters living in the house who have since moved out, which had been another huge worry.  The seller has tried to get out of every single thing that he agreed to, but mostly our agent has had to deal with him.  In the declining market we have now, we also had to be concerned about the house not appraising for the amount we paid for it.  In all 3 of my previous real estate purchases I've never had to think about that, but our good eye for value was validated when the appraisal came through.

The sad part is that we never had a day where we felt like, WE BOUGHT A HOUSE!  Somehow, we've morphed into knowing that it will all work out, but there was never a specific moment.  I'm hoping we get our moment when we close escrow on Monday.  I think I'll go buy some champagne just in case.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

New Ayn Rand Book

I'm excited about this new book of Ayn Rand interviews, Objectively Speaking, edited by Marlene Podritske and Peter Schwartz.  I've probably read most of the print interviews already, but it's been a while.  Since I can't afford to buy recordings of all her audio interviews, this book will fill that gap nicely.  Too bad it's not available for Christmas.

If you've never heard Ayn Rand interviewed you're missing out.  Treat yourself to the pleasure of observing a brilliant mind in action: the Ayn Rand Institute has a nice selection of her lectures and interviews you can listen to for free.  I just listened to the beginning of Speaking Freely, a wide-ranging interview by Edwin Newman, and I'm blown away all over again by her clarity and precision.

Monday, November 17, 2008

I Forgot All About that Place

I can't believe our President-elect gave a shout out to Harold's Chicken Shack.  This one was right next to MY old apartment in Chicago.  Go South Loop!

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Forgive me, Internet, for I have sinned.  It has been 26 days since my last confession.

I ate the last of my daughter's Halloween candy.

Another Little Thing

Samantha finally figured out how to put together some tricky syllables and spent the evening chanting I LOVE DADDY I LOVE MOMMY I LOVE DADDY I LOVE MOMMY.

A Little Thing

I promised Samantha that I would announce to the world that she went poo on the potty for the very first time today.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Why do I get sick for 6 weeks straight every fall?


I just added a link at the top of this page to photos of Sam on Shutterfly.  I've only managed to upload her pictures through September or so.  That's when I switched to Picasa, and I haven't quite figured out yet how I'll share those in an organized way. 

Does anyone have a suggestion as to the fastest and easiest way to manage and share photos?

Something the Lord Made

Something the Lord Made is a great movie.  It's theme is:  The intrinsic value of doing work you love is more fundamental than any reward you can gain from the world for doing it. 

The movie is based on the true story of the two men who pioneered heart surgery.  The partners, one a relatively uneducated black man and the other a respected doctor, are both great men, and the central conflict is one of good versus good - an essential element in any good movie.  (Even the better superhero movies present an internal clash within the hero which ties in to his struggles against evil.)

Without giving away too much, I can say that this movie portrayed independence as the antidote to racism.  Watching it during this historic time when our great nation has elected a black man as President gave the story extra meaning.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Little Thing

Samantha started singing her ABC's today.  I guess she really was singing the alphabet song all along, not Twinkle Twinkle.  It's amazing how she went from just humming the tune to getting about half the letters right in just one day.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Diaper Genie

I've been so busy lately I've been falling down on my homemaker duties.  More than once, we've run out of something essential.

Yesterday it was the Diaper Genie refill bags.  Never, ever, since Sam was born, have I not had an extra ring of bags.  One poopy diaper was enough to send me to the store this morning before just about everything else on my to do list.

I know some people consider a diaper disposal system to be a luxury, but, come on.  Skip one meal out at a restaurant and you've paid for the diaper pail and refills for a year, at least.

I have the Diaper Genie II.  The only thing I don't like about it is that, in order to get the diaper past the spring-tight opening, you have to push pretty hard.  Although it has never happened to me, sometimes the pressure threatens to explode the diaper.  At least, in my imagination it's possible.  Also, your hand usually has to touch the top of the plastic bag, and I'm never quite sure if it is totally clean.  But both of those complaints can be chalked up to my poo-paranoia, so take them for what they are worth.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Sam Update - Twenty Six Months Old

Sam Nov 08Samantha is an integrating machine.  She is working on connections.   The associations she makes are astounding, puzzling, and sometimes hilarious.

While helping her to put on her shoes the other day, I named the parts of the shoe, including the tongue.  Later in the car, she took off her shoe, held it up, pointed to the hole and said, "MOUTH."

She learned my name from an old personalized book I had when I was a kid.  At the end of the story, my name is spelled out in fireworks in the sky.  One day, Sam kept pointing to a spot on my sweater and saying, "AMY AMY AMY."  I finally realized that there was a pattern on the sweater that looked exactly like the fireworks in the book.

When she first learned how to eat fruit, I taught her not to eat the stems and peels by calling them the icky parts.  I also recently started letting her peel her own bananas.  The other day I asked her what she wanted for a snack and she kept saying, "PEE-OW, PEE-OW."  I asked, "Do you want peas?"  NO!  "Are you saying please?"  NO!  "I'm not sure what you are asking for - fruit, yogurt, pears?"  PEE-OW PEE-OW  PEE-OW.   "How about an apple?"  Then I saw the wheels turning and she finally came up with: ICKY.  Ah, she was saying "peel."  She wanted a banana to peel, and when I didn't understand, she told me in another way.  I'm not sure why she didn't just say banana but I thought this was quite a leap in her thinking and communication.

I got her an orange shirt with a black Halloween cat on it which she's worn a few times.  While putting away her summer clothes, I was baffled when she began meowing at her orange shorts, until it dawned on me that they are the only other orange piece of clothing that she has.

She loves the color yellow and she loves big trucks and cars.  A yellow school bus makes her squeal with delight.  But now every big vehicle is a yellow bus, even if it is a white van.  And once she says it, I get treated to this song:

YEYOW-BUCH.  YEYOW-BUCH.  MORE-YEYOW-BUCH. MORE. MORE. MORE. MORE. MORE-YEYOW-BUCH. BYE BYE YEYOW-BUCH. BYE BYE. BYE BYE. BYE BYE. BYE BYE YE-YOW-BUCH.  Sometimes I get a bonus of BEEP BEEP BEEP if she recalls the last time she saw one back up.

Speaking of songs, she can now sing three songs that I recognize.  She hums Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.  (Have you noticed it's the same tune as the alphabet song?)  She misses notes and just keeps going and going and I want to give her a Grammy.  She gets a few words of Rock-A-Bye Baby, but it's mostly ROCKABABY ROCKABABY.  Tonight, she sang Ring Around the Rosy.  We've never sung this to her so she must have learned it at day care, but I actually recognized the tune and her own, minimalist lyrics: ASHES ASHES DOWN!  ASHES ASHES DOWN!

AstronautSamantha has an eye for the sky.  I've learned not to doubt her when she calls out "AIRPLANE."  If she says it, I follow her sight line.  Sometimes I have to look carefully and there is just the tiniest speck in the sky, but she's always right.  Except when it's a helicopter.  She also loves birds, and she adores the moon.  The Halloween costume her dad bought for her about a year ago just-because-he-couldn't-resist-even-though-it-was-way-too-big-at-the-time turned out to be perfect.

I'm surprised she didn't meow at it.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Little Thing

Whoever thinks it is necessary to spread newspaper all over the table to carve a pumpkin never served a meal to a toddler.  A little pumkin guts and seeds?  Bring it on!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

We're in Escrow!

We're buying a house!  This has been a long process and I haven't been writing about it because we had to break our lease with our awesome landlords, one of whom reads this website.  We weren't sure if we could find a deal while interest rates were low, but we did.

We are set to close on November 24, just 18 days from now.  Every day we have a new emergency.  Last night our financing fell through and somehow we got a new loan by about 2pm today. 

I am in the middle of:

  • Hiring a moving comany

  • Buying boxes and supplies

  • Buying homeowners insurance

  • Securing the mortgage

  • Finding new daycare for Sam

  • Hiring a cleaning service

  • Buying new carpet

  • Hiring painters

  • Helping our landlords to re-rent our current house

  • My usual duties as CFO, CEO, zookeeper and mommy

I had to dig some pants out of the dirty laundry this morning.  Sam has watched 2 hours of TV today.  Food means McDonald's in the car and Halloween candy for snacks.

Blogging might be slow for a while.

But it will be worth it.

I think.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Little Thing

Tonight, for the first time ever, Samantha laughed so hard she threw up.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


My grandmother died two weeks ago.   She was 95 years old.  Her mind was sharp and she was physically active until her final days, when she just slowed down and then died in her sleep. 

Grandmère, as we grandchildren called her, still drove a car, volunteered at a hospital and traveled all over the world.  In the past ten years or so she visited New Orleans, Louisiana, Charleston, South Carolina, Ireland, England, Paris, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, took a train through the Canadian Rockies, took cruises through the waters of Alaska and the Mississippi River, and more.   My aunt usually traveled with her, not out of a sense of duty or because Grandmère needed an escort, but because she found her mom to be a great traveling companion.  Grandmère climbed the Great Wall of China and walked along it when others were frightened, and outpaced people half her age.

The night before the funeral, I was asked to say something at the service.  At first I balked, feeling like I didn't deserve to speak about a woman I barely knew.  As I talked to my cousins I realized that we all felt that way.  But we also talked about the times that we spent with Grandmère and I was struck by how we all carried such similar memories.  That night I realized that I could only speak of her as I knew her, and that maybe some other people who loved her would learn something they didn't know before.  I knew I would regret it if I didn't speak.

This is what I said:
I feel a bit unqualified to speak about my grandmother this way.  As my cousin Rebecca put it, we grandchildren didn't really know her "as a person."

When I talk to my cousins about Grandmère, we inevitably end up talking about ourselves - the shared memories and good times we had because of her.

There are four of us "older" grandchildren who knew Grandmère best when we were little kids and she lived in California.  Thanksgiving always meant a trip to Grandmère's house, where we looked forward to staying up late with the grownups to listen to their political arguments more than we looked forward to eating.  That doesn't mean our grandmother couldn't cook.  Oh no.  Grandmère's house also meant good food, especially breakfast.  One thing my husband will never understand about me is why in the world I love Scrapple.

Going to Grandmère's house also meant a swimming pool with a slide, jigsaw puzzles, playing football in the street, and corn dogs at the park.  I remember the long drive from LA to Fresno, when we kids played Mad Libs and drew signs to hang out the window that said, "Honk for Grandma's Turkey."  It's interesting that I can't remember a single return drive back home.

When we grandchildren talk about Grandmère, we all seem to relish in these same wonderful memories.  We don't talk about Grandmère much at all.  She didn't tell us stories or spoil us with gifts.  Most of what we know about her we learned from our parents.  But she was kind to us.  She brought the family together.  She brought us together.  We older cousins are really more like siblings because of her.  Her presence and her home were a focal point for all of us as children, creating a bond between us and shaping our lives to the present day.  I suppose it's true that we really didn't know her "as a person," but we knew her as the matriarch of our family...we knew her from a child's point of view...we knew her as our grandmother.

I learned so much about my grandmother at her funeral.  My aunt spoke of their travels together, a woman from the hospital where she volunteered spoke of her positive attitude and high energy, my mom (who was not her daughter, but her daughter-in-law) spoke of Grandmère's confidence and sense of self, a friend spoke of her great mind with its seemingly endless storehouse of facts, and others spoke of her dedication to her family and many other things which escape me at the moment, but which come to mind at random times each day.  I hope the others learned something from me too.

I'm at peace with only having known Grandmère as my grandmother now.  I won't pine over not having spent more time with her or not getting to know her better.  She was not my peer and we never could have been buddies.  But I am profoundly glad to have witnessed this tribute to her.  It was inspirational.  As the officiate at the service said, she lived a grand life.  Now that is something to aspire to.  Thank you, Grandmère.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Better than Flipping a Coin

I just asked Samantha who I should vote for, McCain or Obama.  She said Obama.

Knowing her penchant for repeating the last word I say, I went back a minute later and asked her who I should vote for, Obama or McCain.  She said Obama.

To a 2 year old, the dude just has a cool sounding name, and that's about the most fundamental distinction I can find between the two of them.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Why is it that my husband is willing to dust, does a great job at it, and even does it without me nagging him, but is completely incapable of returning the duster to its place in the cabinet?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Her Dad Has Been Dreading this Moment

The other day at her daycare, Samantha was dancing with her friend, Robert:

Her other friend, Ignacio, didn't like that one bit:

A fight ensued:

Robert won:

As we were leaving day care today, we stopped in the lobby to put on Sam's coat and hat.  Both Robert and Ignacio were in the lobby with their teacher.  Ignacio brought Sam a package of crackers.  Robert came over and tried to take it away from her. 

Then, as we walked out the door Sam said, "Bye bye Nachie.  Bye bye Wobie."  That was the first time she really used other kids' names properly.  Lord help us!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Manipulation or Sense of Humor?

Tonight I asked Samantha if she wanted water or milk to drink with dinner.  She said "WATER, MILK." (Pronounced, WAA-EE-MICK.)  I asked again.  She said something unintelligible but used sign language to say, "WATER."  I said, "OK, water," and turned back to the kitchen.  As soon as I was out of sight she called out, "MILK!"  I went back - "Milk?"  "YES," she said.  I went around the corner.  She called, "WATER!"  I went back to the table - "You want water?"  She said, "WATER."  I said, "Are you sure?"  She said yes and she got me again as soon as I left the room: "MILK!"  I came back and said, "Are you working me?" 

She giggled.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Little Thing

I don't know which I love more: the way Samantha pronounces "animal," AM-MEE-YO or the fact that I understand her.

The Terrible Twos Are Here

Samantha did this today.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Forgive me, Internet, for I have sinned.  It has been 185 days since my last confession. 

I watch too much TV.

From Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, I learned to use wet toilet paper to wipe up the dusty hairy gunk from the bathroom counter before using a cleaning product.

From The Newleywed Game, I learned to use pubic hair to lather up soap in the shower.

From the The Man Show, I learned to throw dry garments in the dryer with a wet towel to steam out the wrinkles.

At least you can say that you learned these handy tips from a blog.  I, however, am off to say 5 Hail Hiro's and 4 Our Father Who Art in Prison's.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Little Thing

My daughter's first true romp through the fallen leaves of autumn.

Guide Your Child

The one thing that has most helped me to become a better mom is the parenting course I took with Cornelia Lockitch about 9 months ago.  I know I have quite a few readers out there with young children, and many of you share my basic parenting philosophy.  Some of you may have even heard of Cornelia and her work.  If you just needed a little nudge to take a closer look, here it is.  If you've never heard of Cornelia or never considered taking a class in parenting, I hope I can convince you that a little professional help can go a long way, if you find the right professional.

Cornelia is a Montessori-trained teacher and the founder of Guide Your Child Parenting Resources.  She applies Montessori principles to home life with toddlers and preschoolers to help parents "delight in their child's early years by giving them a practical framework for understanding, talking to, and guiding their young child."  At her website, you can sign up for her free e-newsletter and download a 20+ page report called, "The 3 Simple Child-Management Secrets Montessori Teachers Know...and No Parent Should Be Without."  These freebies are great, but the real value comes with talking to her one-on-one about how you can challenge your child while nurturing his or her natural independence and curiosity.

At the abstract level, Cornelia explained to me Montessori's 4 sensitive periods: movement, language, order, and sensorial exploration.  She taught me how to look for signs that Samantha was immersed in one or more of these periods.  As a result, I take a few minutes each week to ask myself, "What is Sam in to now," and I use the framework Cornelia taught me to help decipher Sam's behavior and plan activities for the week.

We discussed different views of the parental role, and how both the "buddy" and the "disciplinarian" models fail the child.  I can't tell you how many times I catch myself falling into one of those roles and recall Cornelia's simple and elegant view.  Go read her website and newsletter and you'll get the flavor of it.

Cornelia gave me 6 concrete ways to apply the principle of advance preparation, 7 specific ways that I could encourage language development, at least 30 age-appropriate activities that I could try with Sam, and probably over 20 tips for setting up our home so as to foster Sam's independence in day-to-day life.  All of this advice was customized to Sam's age, development level, and to our family situation.  Cornelia even took into account the fact that we were living in a tiny 800 square foot rental house at the time. 

I visited 2 Montessori preschools this past week and used the advice that Cornelia gave me about how to assess the quality of a Montessori school.  I'll write more about that as my hunt for the right school for Sam continues.

The best endorsement I can give Cornelia, though, is the testimonial I wrote for her website:
Thanks to Cornelia, I am a much more confident parent.  Before I took her parenting coaching program, I was trying to follow some of the Montessori principles, but I was not always sure how to put them into practice-especially when my daughter was only sixteen months old and not walking yet!  Cornelia gave me so many practical ways to put my ideas into action.  She showed me that it wasn't too early to show my daughter how to put away her own shoes, help with diaper changes, and clean up after a meal.  Now I know how to challenge my daughter with interesting activities without overwhelming her, and she loves it!  We communicate better, and best of all, my confidence allows me to enjoy my time with my daughter without self-doubt and confusion.  Thank you, Cornelia! 

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Little Thing

When I give Samantha a bite of whatever I am eating, she takes the biggest bite she possibly can.  I love the greed of a child.

I Need to Pay More Attention to Advertising

I was so proud of myself for getting Samantha to eat from a plate with 3 or 4 different foods on it, but it didn't last.  She's been fighting us at mealtime ever since, and she almost never eats her vegetables.  I caved and bought a couple of those plates with sections.  We tried one tonight and she ate some of everything.  She even ate spinach!  

It's not that she doesn't like her different foods touching each other - even on the regular plate there was plenty of room to keep the foods separated.  She loves to dip and mix things.  She dips fish sticks in milk and puts peas in her cereal, ok?  She just seems to like defined little areas for each thing.  It's like her mind goes into overdrive with all those things in one container.  PROCESSING....PROCESSING...TOO MUCH INPUT...DOES NOT COMPUTE.

I guess that's why those sectioned plates exist.  I never paid any attention to them.  I suppose I'll be buying a minivan soon too.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Why is it that sidewalk chalk comes off the sidewalk with a light rain, but won't come out of clothes with soap and water?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Happy Birthday, Atlas Shrugged

When Samantha was born, on September 2, 2006, I thought there was something special about the date.  September 2.  September second.  9/2.  Sept. 2nd.  What was it that made that date so familiar?  Finally, I realized that it was the date in Atlas Shrugged that was often noted on the calendar hanging over the city.  Ayn Rand used the trick of characters noting that date to help readers mark the time as years pass in the story.  I always wondered if the date had any significance to her. 

I found out from The Ayn Rand Institute that September 2 was the date that Ayn Rand began writing the novel.  A day for great beginnings, indeed.

Today is the 51st anniversary of the publication of Atlas Shrugged.   I suppose this is the book's real birthday, even though I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for September 2. 

Fifty-one years old and still going strong.  If you haven't read it lately, now is a great time.

Champagne Grapes

GrapesI'm still sick, so I'll continue with my recommendations to close out the week.  This is a true Little Thing: champagne grapes, aka Black Corinth grapes.  My supermarket carries them and I've been tempted to try them all summer, but only bought some last week.  They are tiny little packages of nectar.  So sweet and delicate.  Their tiny size enhances the experience of eating them because you don't chew them at all, you just kind of pop them open with your tongue and they explode with goodness.  They're like natural Pop Rocks.

Samantha loves grapes and before I trusted her chewing abilities, I spent many hours cutting and tearing up grapes into baby size pieces.  I'm pretty sure these champagne grapes would have been safe for her before she was a year old.  I wish I had known about them then.

It turns out that these are the grapes they use to make currants, the little tiny raisins.  Since regular raisins are also a choking hazard, I've been giving Sam currants instead.  We call them baby raisins and she loves them.  (I should have deduced that the existence of baby raisins meant there existed baby grapes too.)  The currants are great for salads and also in recipes that call for raisins when you want a finer distribution of the sweet.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Amazing Zucchini Pie

I subscribe to this awesome recipe service, The Six O'Clock Scramble.  They send me 5 recipes each week which I can customize.  Each meal is fast and easy and includes side dishes, which helps me to remember the veggies.  The best part is that I hit a button and I get an automatically generated shopping list with all the ingredients I need for the week.

This is such an easy way to cook healthy meals without spending a lot of time planning.  It also prompts me to try new things and maintain a good variety of foods in my diet.  If you struggle with cooking for your family, you really should try this service for a few months.  Here is one of my favorite recipes from the service, reprinted here with permission:

Amazing Zucchini Pie

 Many Scramble subscribers and friends of ours are crazy about this vegetable pie, originally suggested by Jackie Cohen.  It is mild and simple enough to appeal to the palates of many kids, as well.  Serve it with Garlic Cheese Bread and an Ambrosia Fruit Salad. 

  • 1 Tbsp. butter or olive oil

  • 2 zucchini, or use yellow squash, thinly sliced (4 - 5 cups)

  • 1/2 large yellow onion, diced

  • 1/2 tsp. salt

  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper

  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder

  • 1/2 tsp. dried basil

  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano

  • 1 prepared pie crust

  • 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten

  • 2 cups part-skim shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and sauté the zucchini and onions until (about 10 minutes).  Add the salt, pepper, garlic powder, basil and oregano. 

Press the pie crust into a pie dish and spread the mustard evenly over the crust.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, cheese and zucchini mixture.  Pour everything into the pie crust and spread it evenly.

Bake it for 30 minutes, until the top is lightly browned.  (Meanwhile, prepare the Garlic Cheese Bread and the fruit salad, if you are serving them.)  Allow it to cool for a few minutes and cut it into wedges to serve it (or refrigerate it for up to 24 hours or freeze it for up to 3 months.) 

Scramble Flavor Booster: Use Swiss, Gruyere, or another type of sharp cheese, rather than the mozzarella. 
SERVE WITH GARLIC CHEESE BREAD & AMBROSIA FRUIT SALADTo make Garlic Cheese Bread, preheat the broiler or set the toaster oven to broil.  Split 4 whole wheat pita pockets or sub rolls in half lengthwise.  Spread the tops (the uneven insides) with a light coating of butter or margarine, sprinkle them with garlic powder, and top them with a small handful of part-skim shredded mozzarella cheese.  Put them under the broiler until the cheese melts and bread turns golden, about 3 minutes.To make an Ambrosia Fruit Salad combine 2 Tbsp. plain nonfat or low fat yogurt or sour cream, 1/8 lemon, juice only (about 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice), and 1 Tbsp. honey in a medium bowl.  Add about 6 cups of cut fresh fruit, such as cantaloupe, blueberries, strawberries, bananas, and/or grapes, and stir gently.  
Nutritional Information per serving (% based upon daily values)
Calories: 200; Total Fat: 12g, 18%; Saturated Fat: 5g, 23%; Cholesterol: 65mg, 22%; Sodium: 520mg, 22%; Total Carbohydrate: 11g, 4%; Dietary Fiber: 1g, 4%; Sugar: 1g; Protein: 11gNutritional Information per serving with sidedish (% based upon daily values) (with 1 slice garlic cheese bread (1/2 pita))
Calories: 449; Total Fat: 20g, 31%; Saturated Fat: 7g, 32%; Cholesterol: 73mg, 25%; Sodium: 776mg, 33%; Total Carbohydrate: 52g, 18%; Dietary Fiber: 5g, 19%; Sugar: 19g; Protein: 19g

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Overdoing It

I'm still sick with this cold I've had for 5 days and counting, so blogging will probably continue to be light for a few days.  Today I'll just make a long overdue addition to my product recommendations. 

OxiClean must be the best cleaning product ever.  I mostly use it to spot clean the carpet.  It takes out everything I've tried it on: wine, coffee, cat puke, blueberry.  It's great for laundry, too.

Somewhere in all the moves we made last year, I lost the squirt bottle I had always used for my OxiClean.  (I buy the powder and mix it with water or throw a scoop in the laundry.)   When we arrived at the house we're renting now, I didn't bother getting a new bottle and making any because I was just too overwhelmed to think about cleaning.  The carpet here is already old and stained and I just figured, why bother?

Well, new stains were still happening and the living room carpet was beginning to disturb me.  Yesterday I finally reached my limit and I made some OxiClean in a measuring cup.  I must have spot cleaned 20 stains.  It didn't matter how old they were, every single one came out.  And I didn't have to scrub or rinse.  All I did was put a bit of OxiClean on a paper towel, soak the stain, and then rub it a bit.  The difference in the carpet is amazing, and it's so easy.

I had also purchased a can of Resolve High Traffic cleaner.  It's one of those foams that you spray and then vacuum.  Before I tried the OxiClean I had tried the Resolve and it didn't take out a single stain.  It might have made the carpet a bit cleaner overall, but not in any way that I could discern.  Baking soda is cheaper and probably works just as well.

If you noticed, I did all this work while I was sick.  I had been stuck at home doing nothing for 4 days and Sam was finally back at day care and I felt a bit better.  I did what I always do when recovering from a cold: I overdid it.  Not only did I clean the carpet in two ways (including vacuuming 3 times), I rearranged the furniture.  I hauled a huge bamboo trunk up the stairs and carried a rocking chair down the stairs.  It just felt so good to be able to accomplish something and I couldn't stop myself.  I didn't feel too bad yesterday even after all the work, but today I am much worse.  

I'm sure someday I'll learn to remember that I need to take it easy after a cold, even if I feel better.  I mean, I'm finally wise enough to stop getting a sunburn at the beginning of every single summer before I remember how bad it is and start using sunscreen.  But I still do too many sit ups every time I start a new workout regime.  And I'm writing a much longer post than I had intended, since I really should be resting.  These seem like silly little things that many people do, but this is day-to-day long range thinking, and it's something I'm working on.

In the meantime, I'm going to go rest, eat some soup, drink some OJ (I can finally feel good about that acronym again!), and watch Sesame Street.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Sam Update - Twenty Five Months Old

Sit N Spin

As always, Sam is both the same and different than she was last month.

  • She still likes Little Bear, but now she also likes Elmo.

  • She still likes sausage, but now she also likes ham.

  • She still gets ear infections, but now she also gets ringworm.

  • She still likes a lullaby at night, but now she also sings along with us.

  • She still likes french fries, but now she also likes a Filet O' Fish.

  • She still says yellow, but now she also says blue, brown, purple, and green.

  • She still likes Cheerios, but now she also likes Rice Krispies.

We still love her, but now just a little bit more than we did last month.

Friday, October 3, 2008

What's Your Favorite Letter?

Sam is sick again so we're watching Sesame Street right now.  She's been very interested in the alphabet lately and has been pointing to and naming letters.  Sesame Street was doing an alphabet skit and Sam was saying a lot of the letters when they came up on the screen.  But after "H" she stopped and said, "Y." I told her, "that's K; that's L," but she just said "Y" a few more times and then waited for it to appear.  After it came and went, she said, "Bye bye Y. Bye bye Y.  Bye bye Y."

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Little Thing

Sam pronounces vegetable, beg-a-bow, and will say it over and over just to see me giggle every time.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Life Lessons Brought to You by Survivor

(Warning:  Includes spoilers from episodes 1 and 2, air date 9/25/08)


Michelle, the angry victim, was the first person voted off Survivor: Gabon last week.  It reminds me of something I witnessed at the doctor's office a couple of weeks ago.

I was in the waiting room when this tense woman walked in.  Angry Woman went to the front desk and asked where Dr. D.'s office was.  The receptionist told her that this was indeed his office.  Her response was, "Oh, well I would have expected his name to be on the door or something."  The receptionist asked her name, and whether she had her "orders."  In a short tone, Angry Woman said that, no, she didn't have her orders.  The receptionist asked about some other paperwork and by now, Angry Woman was pissed.  She sarcastically told the receptionist that she did not have that paperwork either, the implication being that the receptionist was out of line for asking.  Angry Woman was given some forms to fill out and she sat down, fuming.  After a moment, she declared to the room at large, "I might just have to leave."  She looked around at all of us, seeking a sympathetic face I suppose, and apparently the woman next to me gave it to her.  Angry Woman addressed my neighbor directly:  "Did they treat you like that? I might not be able to stay here if they are going to treat me like that.  Did they treat you like that?" My neighbor mumbled, "Yes."  Then Angry Woman muttered to herself for a minute or two.  Eventually she went back to the receptionist and gave her a tongue lashing about how people who come here are in pain, and need help, and if this is the level of service from the receptionist what can she expect from the doctor, and she might just have to leave, and she is outraged, etc. etc.

I've been to this doctor about 8 times, and the administrative staff is way above average and I've always been treated with respect.  The receptionist treated Angry Woman the same way, at least until Angry Woman gave her the bad attitude.  Then, the receptionist was a bit more formal and short, but that's about the extent of it.

After chewing out the receptionist, Angry Woman joined my neighbor and they started bitching together about how terribly they have been treated.  I had to change seats because I just couldn't take the needless negativity.

Later that day, I went to the drive through at McDonald's.  I ordered a Filet O' Fish and a milk.  Chicken McNuggets came up on the display screen.  I corrected the order a few times, and managed to get the fish sandwich and milk up on the screen, but no matter what I told the woman on the other side of the intercom, those nuggets stayed up there.  I was laughing when she asked me, "Will that be all?" as the quantity of nuggets went from 1 to 2 to 3.  In a silly voice to make sure she knew I wasn't mad, I said, "yes, but NO NUGGETS."  She laughed and finally got them deleted.  When I got to the window to pay, I said, "You're really doing the hard sell on those nuggets today, aren't you?"  She laughed and we had a nice moment.

How many times in the past have I been bitchy about someone getting my order wrong, or misspelling my name 3 times in a row, or not using their turn signal?  What a waste!  Most of these people are not incompetent or mean or out to get me.  Maybe they are new on the job, or hard of hearing, or are actually doing something good that I'm just not aware of.  Sure, the incompetent people are out there, but going through your life angry about how the stupid people are making your life hell is counterproductive.  I've been doing it for 30 years and I'm just realizing that I've been the stupid one.

Michelle bitched and moaned about how her tribe mates were stupid.  They voted her off because of her negativity, but she was convinced that they were losers and that they voted her off because she was strong.

Victims choose to live in the world that they complain about.