Saturday, September 30, 2006

Eye-candy Friday

I just heard of "eye-candy Friday" last week; it's a blogger thing where you post a picture of something that catches your eye. I decided to participate...and of course promptly forgot about it! So here's your eye-candy, a day late!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Why am I having a beer at 4 in the afternoon?

1. Because my kid is finally taking a nap.

2. Because I just had a "performance review" with the new graduate advisor, who is three months into her new job, and was equally impressed and confused by the thickness of my file; now I am currently worried that I haven't met the requirements for the DMA.

3. Mind you, I've done the work, but I may have not registered for recitals the right way, and I'm afraid they will never make it on my permanent record.

4. Because I might have to register for an Italian class and there's no way I can either find childcare for that time or pay for the credit hours. Out-of-state tuition is a bitch here.

5. Because Daniel was up howling from 10pm-midnight last night and my head is throbbing from sleep-deprivation.

6. Because damn is Oberon good, and it's almost out of season. Make hay while the sun shines, eh?

7. Because I'm having my 4,837th career crisis to date. Why the hell did I go into music?

8. Because drinking beer and blogging is a good time.

9. Because I've been a graduate student for too frikkin' long and am starting to feel lame. Nothing like a 4pm beer to stop feeling lame.

10. Because it dulls the monotony of housewifery. (Hee hee, it took me three tries to spell "monotony." The Oberon must be kicking in.)

11. Because ten minutes into this blog entry, my kid woke up and I need this beer to get through the rest of the afternoon.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Rough day

Little Daniel had a rough day yesterday. It started the night before when he was fussy and too congested to breastfeed properly. Yesterday morning he had a low-grade fever and a runny nose and was just plain miserable. Even though Daniel was afflicted only by a common cold, I was heartbroken for him. The poor kid was whimpering and sniffling and spent a good part of the day sleeping on my shoulder. By late afternoon, after a couple hours' worth of naps and a dose of generic Tylenol administered the fun way (can you guess?), he seemed to be feeling better:

(Really, the whole reason for this post was to share that picture. He figured out how to empty that bookshelf and was so proud of the result!)

Sunday, September 24, 2006

I met a real, live author!

I met Alexander McCall-Smith last evening. He was doing a talk and book-signing at Borders, an easy 7-minute bike ride away from my house, so I decided to go. I felt a little guilty about leaving Stuart to put Daniel to bed, as our child has hit a serious stage of separationi anxiety if I am not with him AT ALL TIMES around his bedtime, but the event was close to home and free, so I went for it. There were definitely some baby bedtime issues while I was gone, but I won't dwell on that.

Alexander McCall-Smith was great, though. What a charming, delightful, articulate, funny man. I got hooked on the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series a couple of years ago. Right after Daniel was born, during those long days of brand-new motherhood when it seemed like all I did was breastfeed and get up occasionally to use the bathroom, I read most of his other books.

He had so many good stories to tell, including one involving an Irish judge crawling on all fours to sneak out of a two and a half hour lecture on "Philosophy of Taxation," and the resulting dilemma of his bodyguards, who weren't sure about the best way of going about "guarding" him when he was in such a position (they settled on crouching as the most protective yet least dramatic exit). I would recount the other things he had to say, but there's no way I can adequately reproduce his choice of words, his demeanor or his tendency to crack up in the middle of an especially funny anecdote.

On a completely unrelated note, here is a picture of our visitor-slash-mouse-chaser-extraordinaire of last weekend. As you can see, Marcus and Daniel get along quite well:

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Snips and snails and Nike logos

It doesn't matter what kind of diaper Daniel's wearing, he still manages to leak all kinds of pee through his clothes every night, so yesterday I went shopping to buy him a couple more pairs of footed pajamas so I wouldn't have to do laundry every day. So far we've been fortunate not to have to buy many new clothes for Daniel. Between the used rack at Happy Bambino, gifts from friends and relatives, and hand-me-downs, I've only had to fill in some gaps here and there.

So off I went to Kohl's, which is situated in a big, nasty parking lot/mall complex on the west side of Madison, but nonetheless has inexpensive children's clothes and a pretty good selection. Or so I thought. There were certainly racks and racks of things to choose from, but the choices boiled down to:

- sports logos
- ironed-on race cars, trucks and fire engines
- baseball/football/basketball motifs with things like "Daddy's little All-star!" embroidered on
- Green Bay Packers onesies

I didn't spend much time looking on the girls' racks, but a cursory glance showed a selection of flowers, kittens, lots of pink, and a onesie that read "Does this diaper make my butt look big?" I shouldn't have to tell you what I thought of that one.

Now, I'm not a person who gives terribly much thought to what I'm wearing. I've never had a full-time job that required dressing up every day, and I was raised to believe there are better things to spend money on than lots of nice clothes. Things like a college education, travel and good books are more of a priority for me. (Well, and yarn, but I'm trying to be good.) Besides, most of what I wear gets doused with pee, barf, drool and pureed vegetables.

When it comes to little kids, they REALLY don't care what they're wearing, as long as they're comfortable. But at what point do they start noticing that girls are almost exclusively dressed in pretty, flowery, soft clothes, and boys in more aggressive, active, extroverted clothes? As if girls don't play sports and aren't interested in trucks. (When I was little, I loved cement trucks. I still get kind of excited when I see one, but that's a story for another day.) As if boys can't appreciate flowers and butterflies.

After 20 minutes, I settled on the only two pairs of jammies I could stomach, one with little ducks all over, and one with puppies. When I left the store, I was thoroughly disgusted, both with the clothing companies and the store for their merchandise, and a little bit with myself for caring so much.

I know there are other options out there, but I have a feeling they're expensive. I'm conflicted about this. I'm not going to shop designer labels, but I want to avoid making my kid look like a lil' NASCAR fan. I don't have time to make all of his clothes, and I don't think it's worth it considering that he, too, is often covered with pee, drool and all the rest.

I also know that in the scheme of things, this is not a big deal. The war in Iraq, global warming, homophobic legislation - all those things bother me a heck of a lot more than baby fashion trends. But it's still pretty annoying. Maybe I should start a line of affordable, stereotype-free kids' clothes. Maybe I should just get over it.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Top Ten Book List

Firstly, I wanted to plug Thorny's post on the value of mothering. It's from a few days ago, and it got the ol' noggin cranked up to write a post on a similar topic, but that hasn't happened yet. Anyway, I encourage everyone to read it whether you're a parent or not, because she's got a lot of good things to say in there.

Secondly, I've been tagged! Whoo! Steph made a list of her ten favorite books and now she's making me do it. As if I need my arm twisted to do such a thing. I love reading and I love lists and I have a napping baby and a pile of dishes I don't feel like washing and a piano that I don't feel like practicing (although I had a very insightful piano lesson this morning, which I also want to write about soon), so now seems like the perfect time. It seems I also love run-on sentences.

I haven't been reading much lately, which is ironic, considering the subject of this post. When you combine the sleep-deprivation I've had of late with the intellectual rigor of recital preparation and physical exhaustion of taking care of a 7.5mo, all I can muster up the energy for is cookbooks, food magazines, and knitting blogs. It makes me feel sad and shallow. Were it not for the whole "being in grad school" thing, I would be afraid of turning into a smaller, messier version of Martha Stewart.

Enough with the excuses! Here's my list (in no particular order):

1. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. HA! Just kidding. I actually thought that book kind of sucked, and here I'd had all this build-up before reading it. Granted, the feminist religious stuff was pretty cool, but the prose read like a bad movie script, and I kept envisioning Tom Hanks running around the Louvre and it just didn't work for me.

OK, here we go for real. By the way, I'm not doing the link to Amazon because I quickly get impatient with links, and I know if y'all really wanted to find these books, you're capable of going to Amazon or your library or local bookstore and finding them yourselves. It's called self-reliance. :)

1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I get this from my mother. She read it to me as a middle schooler when I was home sick, we've seen all the film adaptations (there are four) multiple times, and I've read the book myself at least twice. I don't think I know any book as well as this one, and it gets better every time. The characters are interesting, the dialogue is clever, and Jane Austen was such a forward-thinking woman of her time.

2. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. If I had to choose one, I would say The Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite of the six that are currently out, but I don't like choosing. Anyone who thinks these books are like LOTR lite (half the calories!) is SO off-base. I've read all the books at least three times, including once out loud in the car to my brother on a road trip, and I never, ever get tired of them. The wizarding world Rowling created is so imaginative and so engaging that every time I read these books I want to be a young witch at Hogwarts with a wand and some butterbeer. I also have a crush on Sirius Black. The reason I keep returning to the Harry Potter series, though, is because of the way Rowling treats issues of power, choices, and personal integrity.

3. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. This book is the biography of Paul Farmer, a brilliant doctor who runs a free clinic in Haiti, has developed an effective treatment for drug-resistant tuberculosis, and started Partners in Health. This is quite possibly the most inspiring book I've ever read. I also think it should be required reading for everyone in medical school.

4. Dress Your Family in Courdoroy and Denim by David Sedaris. I put this on the list because it's so damn funny, but there's really no reason Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day shouldn't be in this place instead.

5. How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. This is my desert island cookbook. It's not a vegetarian cookbook (he's written one, but I haven't looked at it yet), but there are a lot of meatless recipes in there. It's not the kind of book you curl up with on a cold winter evening with a cup of hot chocolate, but it's chock full of good information, and I probably use it more than any other cookbook I own.

6. This Organic Life by Joan Dye Gussow. The author is a nutritionist by training who decided to try and grow all her own produce in her backyard in New York. She succeeded for the most part. This book totally changed my thinking about what we eat. She makes a case not only for buying organic, but buying locally grown food, which is almost more important. Her tone is a bit condescending - after I read it, I felt guilty about every cup of coffee I drank for a good month - but if you can get past that, you learn a LOT about the environmental and economic impact of the decisions we make about the food we eat.

7. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Kingsolver is a native Kentuckian, the kind that makes me proud to call Kentucky my home state (unlike certain members of Congress, but we won't go there right now). I've read every blessed book this woman has written, even Holding the Line, which is a history of the women of the Arizona mine strike in New Mexico in the early 1980s, and was written in her days as a journalist. While it's hard for me to choose just one book out of her ouevre, I settled on The Poisonwood Bible because I've read it more than once and I think it's brilliant. The story is compelling, her prose flows like honey, and most of it takes place in Africa; these are all assets in my opinion.

8. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall-Smith. Yeah, I know. Another series. There are five or six of these out by now, and they are about Mma Ramotswe, a woman of "traditional build" living in Botswana who runs a small detective agency with her assistant (whose name inexplicably escapes me right now). These books are a fast read, not heavy emotionally or philosophically, but they're far from shallow. McCall-Smith has a gift for writing about Africa in a beautiful way that neither ignores the terrible problems plaguing the continent (AIDS, poverty, war) nor dwells on them. Mma Ramotswe loves her little country of Botswana, and if you read these books, you will too.

9. Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott. This book is subtitled "Instructions on Writing and Life," and it's just that. I don't aspire to be a professional writer (thank the heavens, you're thinking), but I want to be a better one. As in all of Anne Lamott's non-fiction (I've not read any of her fictional works), she is funny, inspiring, and full of truth. Bird By Bird is also realistic about the writing process and how difficult it is, and how you get through the rough patches and writers' block and all that. It's apropos to the work of being a musician, so this is a book I actually own.

10. Ack! Am I at #10 already? Memoirs are one of my favorite genres, so I need to have at least one on this list. I like to read about real people's lives and how they perceive them. I'm going to cheat because I've read three really good memoirs in the last year or so, and I can't really say one or another is my favorite. Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood by Jennifer Traig, A Girl Named Zippy: Growing up Small in Mooreland Indiana by Haven Kimmel, and The Prizewinner of Defiance Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less by Suze Orman and Terry Ryan. What do I look for in a good memoir? That it be funny, poignant, quirky and well-written, and these all fit the bill.

I'm sure I'll think of books I should have put on this list but didn't. As it is, I'm publishing this post a whole day after I started it, the dishes still need washing, and Daniel's morning nap is long over, so this is what you're getting. Before I leave you, though, it's tag time! Joe? Pam? I know y'all love to read! If you can find a few minutes in your busy lives (I know how busy you are), share your 10 best!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

4-legged mouse trap

Thanks for the comments and recommendations re: getting a cat, but we're not going to, for the following reasons:

1. Cats make me sneeze a little.
2. They make my dad sneeze a LOT, and I want my parents to be able to visit when they want to.
3. I'm not really a "pet" person.
4. I'm already a grad student with a baby to take care of. I don't want more responsibility.
5. I'm not convinced that two isolated mouse incidents, even if they were just a couple days apart, means we have a serious infestation warranting more extreme measures than a couple of well-placed, well-baited traps.
6. Even if we got a cat, it would probably deposit dead mice all over the house. Gross.
7. We don't have room for a litter box.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Maybe we need to rent a cat

We had more guests this weekend! One was the good kind, a friend of my brother (we'll call him M) , who stayed over here Saturday night on his way to Minnesota, where he's re-locating permanently. We have some really good pictures of him with Daniel, but I don't want to post them unless it's OK with him. Trust me, they're cute.

You can guess who the other "guest" was.



It was Saturday evening. Daniel was asleep in our room in his crib. Stu, M and I were in the kitchen eating dessert. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a shadow.

"Oh no," said Stuart.

"Mouse?" said I, and I knew the answer before he gave it.

This one did not go directly into the basement, but instead led us on a quiet chase (sleeping baby, remember?) all through the upstairs of the house. I use the term "us" somewhat liberally, as Stu and M did all the chasing etc while I watched from my frightened perch on top of the couch. Mouse #2 scurried behind the stove, into the living room, under the piano, behind the bookshelves, into the bathroom, out of the bathroom, and very nearly into the room where Daniel was sleeping. At that point, I very nearly came unglued. It's a good thing Stu had his wits about him. As I was freaking out from my watcher's post atop the couch, Stu stuffed a rug under the door to our room so the mouse couldn't get in there.

Meanwhile, M was waiting in the living room with a broom, ready to chase the mouse out from its hiding place and out into the open. As I cowered and squealed - so useful, me - the mouse dashed behind the TV, where it hid for a minute or so, giving Stuart time to re-bait and re-set the trap. He set in on the floor where he thought the mouse would run while M went after it with the broom. No dice. Finally after about three tries, it ran straight into the trap and SNAP! - it was caught.

Now all that was left to do was dispose of it, which involves Stu (not me, no friggin' way) going out to the woods in our yard and dumping it there for the crows to find. M went out there with him, I guess because he was curious to see how this trap works.

They were out there a little too long. Evidently, there was some debate as to the deadness of the mouse.

"What's the problem?" I asked, not really wanting to know.

"Well," said Stuart. "See, the trap is supposed to break the mouse's neck, but-"

"That's all I want to know," I said, and went about scouring the kitchen in hopes of preventing another mouse attack. Pre-emptive cleaning, I call it.

Stu and M were outside with an old paint bucket, drowning the not-quite-dead mouse. I heard boyish giggles, exclamations of "Ew! Gross!" At the point I heard one of them utter the word "Chunks!" I turned a deaf ear.

Daniel slept through the entire incident without a peep.

So what prompted visits from two mice in three days? I figure it's just a fact of life in a neighborhood with lots of wooded areas and not enough predators to keep the rodent population in check. M figured Mouse #2 was sent here on a reconnaissance mission when Mouse #1 never returned to the fold.

In any case, I hope I never have to post about this again!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

In lieu of words, I give you pictures

I'm not really sure what to post about these days. School has started, the sun is finally shining, and in general, life ain't bad. It's just that I can't really think of anything worth writing about. And from what I gather from friends, family, etc, the more pictures (especially of Daniel), the better! So here you go.

This is me and Daniel at the farm in Montana a couple weeks ago. I made him this hat the first night to take the edge off the morning chill:

Here's a view of that Montana Big Sky over the man-made reservoir at Fort Peck:

Here's Daniel a few days ago after an attempt at crawling:

Finally, here's the back of a sweater I'm knitting for Daniel. It's sized for 2-3yo. you know me; I like to get a head start!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Sacred Hour

I've heard tell of the Afternoon Nap. It is a time treasured by every full-time parent. Starting around noon or one o'clock, two or three hours of quiet, unmitigated bliss. What do mothers (and some fathers) do with this luxurious time? Clean the house, do the dishes, read a book, have a cocktail, write daily blog entries, knit, sew, quilt, watch soap operas, do yoga, plan dinner, scrapbook?

I wouldn't know.

About once a week, Daniel treats me to a long afternoon nap. By "long," I mean 60-90 minutes. Usually, though, he sleeps about half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the early afternoon. Some days he takes another short nap right before Stu gets home from work, but it's not his usual habit.

Now, I believe in following my child's cues for eating and sleeping. After all, how can you force a baby onto a schedule? But this faux nap thing he's doing is driving me batshit insane. I need this time to do what?...whatever it is I would do with free time. I need this time without my child hanging on my hip and climbing all over me. I need this time to do grown-up things like read something other than board books (much as I like "Runaway Bunny," it wears thin after a few readings). I need this time to feel like myself. I have to keep believing that time will come.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Where were you?

They used to ask: "Where were you when JFK was shot?" Now that question will undoubtedly be replaced with: "Where were you on September 11, 2001?"

I remember being at home with Stuart, both of us getting ready to bike to school, and hearing Bob Edwards' voice on NPR announcing that a plane had just run into the World Trade Center.

"Terrorists?" I said.

"Surely not. A bomb would be easier than a plane," said Stu.


An hour later I was on campus, heading up to the department office to make some copies for the class I was teaching, and I saw the office staff huddled around a small television that had been wheeled in. One woman was crying. There were images then of the Pentagon smoking, and then they cut to New York and we watched as the second tower fell.

I went down to my office and said to my office-mate, "Have you been watching the news?"

"Yeah," he said. "But surely not that many people could have been hurt, right?"

Wrong again.

Like most everyone else in the U.S., I spent the rest of the day in a daze, watching the news and calling my family...and yet I also went about doing business as usual. I taught my class and taught a piano lesson and practiced a little. I think I was sort of numb from it all, because I also remember driving out to Bed, Bath and Beyond to try and return a blender (it had been a wedding gift), and they had closed early. That was probably the most trivial thing I could have chosen to do that afternoon. Later I taught several hours of piano lessons, and had a heartbreaking but meaningful moment with a kid named Jeremy. He was a terrible piano student, but a sweet kid, and when he looked at me with his dark, sad eyes and said, "How could someone do something that terrible?" I almost cried because I didn't know how to answer him.

So that's where I was.

It was pointed out to me this evening that while tomorrow is the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, it is the hundredth anniversary of Ghandi's declaration of satyagraha, non-violent protest, in South Africa. Interesting, isn't it, that on a single day we can remember a terrible act of violence on our country, and a man who was one of the most important leaders of the twentieth century, whose principles were based in non-violence? Though Ghandi was Hindu himself, I believe he found the inspiration for these principles in reading the Bible. (Is this the same Bible that Pat Robertson reads?)

When I think about how my country responded to the 9/11 attacks, I feel anger and sadness, but mostly, I feel shame. 3,000 people died unjustly that day on U.S. soil, and in the months that followed, our military was sent out to seek revenge. Did this set things right? How many civilians died in Afghanistan? Tenfold the number we lost here? Twenty? And in Iraq? How many have died there? How many of our own in the armed forces have died overseas by now? How can this be just? How can this be right? How can these actions possibly promote a better world?

Those questions are rhetorical, mind you. If you want to try and tell me that our military presence in thoses countries is making us safer and that my anti-war stance is hurting morale, please save your breath. The way I see it, dropping bombs on people constitutes as terrorism, no matter who is doing it to whom. Think about it. Five years ago we lost 3,000 people, two skyscrapers, and a piece of the Pentagon, and just that brought this country to its knees. By "just," I don't mean to trivialize the loss, but since then, our military has done far more damage than that, destroying whole cities and their infrastructures. I wouldn't blame the folks in Afghanistan and Iraq for being terrified and angry and disgusted. So many people have died. (If Bush admitted to 30,000 civilian casualties in Iraq, what do you suppose the actual number is? If that's not unjust, I don't know what is. In fact, that seems to be the very definition of injustice.)

Ghandi said Satyagraha is a relentless search for truth, and a determination to reach truth, an insistence on truth. I believe that truth and justice go hand in hand, and that you can not find either if you are using violence to find them.

Look what Daniel did!

This is a kid who doesn't yet crawl and has no teeth, but by gum if he didn't pull himself up by the bars of his crib for the first time just after turning seven months old! Damn.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Thanks for the encouraging comments on that last post. Like I said, I wasn't digging for affirmation, but it was still nice to read it. Things are better today. I've got a babysitter coming here a few mornings a week so I can practice. Today was her first day, and two things that convinced me the $10/hr is worth it:

1) About a minute after she got here, she was treated to a tutorial in changing a poopy diaper, complete with rubber gloves ("poop gloves"), a bucket (the "poop bucket") and flushable wipes, which I only discovered last week. All this and she didn't even flinch.

2) I had nearly two hours of uninterrupted practice time and it felt wonderful. I had forgotten how much I missed that.

I also met with my teacher yesterday and I have some ideas for a dissertation/final project; at the very least, I know where to start. So I'm feeling less anxious for now.

Daniel is so close to crawling, all of a sudden. Today he turns seven months old. He has just started pushing himself up on all fours like he's about to do a push-up, then dropping to his knees and trying his darndest to move somewhere, anywhere, preferably in the direction of some verboten electronic item. He ends up either scooting backwards a few inches at a time (grin! giggle!) or falling to the side (whimper! cry!) or onto his forehead (wail! howl!). I've decided that head-bonking is inevitable in this situation and provide an amply padded play space for him wherever we are in the house. It won't be long before we have to cover the outlets, put up a baby gate and tie cushions to everything.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

School Days

Wham! The summer is over, Labor Day has come and gone, and we're officially two days into the fall semester at UW. I was on campus briefly yesterday and was greeted with swarms of new students looking vaguely lost, pedestrians wandering across the busy streets apparently oblivious to the WALK and DON'T WALK signs, helmet-less bikers tempting fate by weaving in and out of traffic, and an overwhelming urge to just turn around and go home because I didn't want to face it. Not yet.

Is it possible to literally split in two from ambivalence? After all, the only things that kept me from losing my mind in the tedium and minutae of housewifery were:

1) Traveling. Despite the disruption to Daniel's sleeping and eating routines, we went a lot of places and saw a lot of family, so it was worth it.

2) Knowing that I would be returning to school in the fall and would have something to work towards besides housework and diaper changes. (I know there are women who are very happy working exclusively as full-time mothers; I totally respect that, but I am not one of those.)

Yet now that the semester has begun, I'm a little nervous about mustering up the motivation to do what it takes to finish my doctorate. Can I do a recital in six weeks? Will I pass my prelims in November? Will I find a satisfactory dissertation topic? Aren't my professors all getting sick of me at this damn school? What if I can't cut it as a grad student and as a mom, even though countless people before me have done it? Gah!

So that's where I am right now, everyone: bouncing back and forth between the relief excitement of returning to an element of my pre-motherhood life, and the anxiety of same.

Monday, September 04, 2006

You don't see this every day...

...unless, that is, you're in Glasgow, Montana!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Big Sky Country

There's a good reason Montana is called Big Sky Country. As we rode in on the train, the trees got more and more sparse through North Dakota and the eastern edge of Montana, and eventually they nearly disappeared altogether. In this part of the country, you see miles and miles of rolling hills covered with a thin layer of dry, straw-colored grass. Cattle dot the landscape. Occasionally you'll see a small farmhouse badly in need of a paint job, or, more likely, a small wooden shack on the verge of collapse. It looks like there hasn't been rain there in months, and there probably hasn't. Anything that is a healthy green is a product of intense irrigation. I would not want to farm here, but somehow people do it.