Thursday, January 31, 2013

desperate for birthday present suggestions

Daniel's golden birthday is next Thursday; he turns 7 on the 7th. This is very exciting for him, of course, and I'd like to make it special for him, but there's one problem: I can't think of anything to get him for a present. Isn't that awful? For crying out loud, I'm his mother! I'm putting out an appeal for suggestions, in case any of you out there have some brilliant idea I haven't run across yet.

He's too young for a computer. He already has a digital camera that I found him on craigslist a while back. We don't do video games. He asked for legos for Christmas, but hardly plays with them. I want to make him a Gryffindor scarf because we're reading the Harry Potter series together, but he's turning 7, not 70. A scarf alone ain't gonna cut it. He likes to read, but other than Harry Potter is currently really into Captain Underpants and I'm perfectly okay with just borrowing those from the library, thanks. He loves games, and just yesterday seriously wounded my dignity by beating me at Scrabble with hardly any help (yes, that hurt). A couple weeks ago the sitter taught him Skip-Bo so we'll probably get that.

Part of the problem is that he doesn't play with toys much. He's happiest when he's kicking my tush at Scrabble or building forts in the basement or putting together elaborate structures with old boxes and paper towel tubes. I love this and of course I want to foster this creativity as much as possible, but I somehow don't think a pile of old boxes counts as a birthday present.

So, readers, got any suggestions for me? Stuart and I are going to brainstorm this evening, but time is of the essence here!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

air pollution

You know how all those conservative pundits and right-wing economists say we should be more like China in our economic policy and do away with environmental regulations because we don't need them anymore? Well, if we did that, we'd be choking like the poor folks in Beijing. No thanks.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

january rain

Last night I was awoken by a thunderstorm. It was a big one, too - driving rain, frequent lightening flashes, powerful thunder, and I heard a pop and sizzle of something getting hit with lightening down the street. Normally I like the sound of a thunderstorm in the middle of the night, but not in mid-winter when we should be getting snowstorms instead. We've had several bitterly cold days here, as we should, but there have been a couple of warm patches, too, so the evidence of last month's 18" blizzard has largely melted into a sloppy mess of mud, puddles, and small, sad piles of snow reminding us that it is supposed to be winter.

I suppose this is the new normal, and it distresses me. Last night's storm enveloped me in fear and hopelessness for the future. How can people deny global warming when the evidence is glaring them in the face? Flooding their homes? Burning the mountainsides and scorching the deserts? When I look out my window on a day that feels like mid-March and see water pouring from the sky, my efforts to do the right thing seem so puny and futile. What good does it do to compost my onion peels and reuse my plastic zippy bags and give a few dollars to WISPIRG when we've already reached the brink of climate change, and possibly passed it? I keep hoping that all the extreme weather of the past couple years is only a blip and we'll return to normal before long. But I know better. And it literally keeps me awake at night.

Like many progressives, I was disappointed in how Obama fell short of expectations on several issues in his first term. A lot of that couldn't be helped, given the economic collapse and the belligerent obstructionist Congress he was up against. Now that he's gotten a second term, I hope he takes this issue head-on before it's too late. If it's not already.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

diet restrictions

I've always considered us lucky that the only food issue we've had to deal with around here is picky eating habits. Things have improved on that front in the last year or so, but they were so persnickety in their toddler and preschool years that I had to visit a nutritionist with each of them at one point. Still, compared to the nut allergies, dairy/soy/gluten intolerances and violent reaction to poultry and shellfish that some of their friends and classmates have to watch out for every day, a bit of whining that the dinner menu simply isn't to their liking seems like, well, small potatoes. (And by the way, my kids don't like potatoes. Theirs is a strange list of likes and dislikes.)

Now, I'm afraid, we are entering what I hope is a temporary period of a somewhat restricted diet, at least for Daniel. He's had an issue of habitual throat-clearing for several months now, and after a series of appointments at the pediatric ENT clinic this afternoon, which included sticking a tiny camera up his nose and down his throat (wasn't as bad as it sounded, and he got a lollipop for his good behavior), the ENT doc and a speech pathologist concluded that the likely culprit is acid reflux. Obviously, I was relieved that he doesn't have a tumor on his vocal chords or something. Other than throat irritation and the subsequent throat-clearing, Daniel doesn't really have any symptoms that we can tell, and the treatment is fairly simple: for a few weeks, take one Prilosec every day and avoid trigger foods to  see if it makes a difference. 

Fortunately, the list of foods to avoid includes several things Daniel never has anyway, like fizzy drinks, peppermint, and spicy foods. Unfortunately, it also includes chocolate (because of the caffeine), citrus and tomatoes. Citrus isn't really a problem. Daniel likes oranges but it's not like he can't live without them. But chocolate? It kind of sucks to deny a 6yo kid his cup of hot cocoa when it's only 10 degrees outside. And his birthday is coming up, so I hope he's okay with something other than chocolate cupcakes when we celebrate. Still, either something has chocolate or it doesn't, and it's not that hard to avoid. Tomatoes are definitely the trickiest ingredient on this list of "don'ts". I use tomatoes a lot in soup, with beans and rice (one of Daniel's favorite dinners, though Anya won't touch it - you see what I'm up against here, btw, since they can't even be picky about the same things!), with spaghetti, as pizza sauce...but with the health of my child at stake, I will adapt. I will be creative. I will figure it out.

But for the time being, poor Daniel will have to be one of those kids who walks around  with a list of Stuff He Isn't Allowed To Eat. And one of those things is chocolate. Poor guy.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


It's hard to believe that one week ago, I was here:

That's a picture of Anya at Cocoa Beach, off the Atlantic coast of Florida. Last week I had two performances with my friend and singer par excellence Dr. Julia. She teaches at Rollins College in Winter Park (a suburb of Orlando), and we gave a concert there and another one at a swanky retirement center near the college. When we put our program together last summer, I suggested that we do our Florida performances in the winter so I would have an excuse to leave the cold north behind for a few days! She was happy to oblige, fortunately, and I managed to make the trip into a working vacation.

I brought Anya with me. I would have liked to bring the whole family along, but Stuart didn't have the vacation days and Daniel would have missed a whole week of school. Anya got the prize of traveling with me because 1) she's only in half-day preschool so I would have had to hire a nanny for at least 30 hours, which would have cost as much as just buying her a plane ticket and bringing her along, and 2) I had to be in Florida for an entire week and that is a really long time for the two of us to be apart. It turned out that I had a lot of down time between rehearsals and performances, so it was nice having the company.

And anyway, it's no fun going to Sea World by yourself. Because yes, we went to Sea World. No, we did not go to Disney World. Anya is really anti-princess and doesn't much care about Disney stuff, which is a-okay with me. I consider myself extremely lucky to have dodged the princess bullet, at least for now. In any case, she was excited about Sea World because there are sharks there and indeed, we walked through the tunnel aquarium with manta rays and sharks. We saw the cheesy trained animal shows with seals and dolphins and killer whales...

...and got monstrous blisters from walking around in new flip-flops. It was fun, and I'm glad I did it once.

Anya's favorite part of the trip by far was going to the beach. We went twice: once to Clearwater (on the Gulf coast)...

...and once to Cocoa Beach (on the Atlantic side):

Daniel tasked us with collecting seashells, which we were able to do at Clearwater. He is proud of his collection and spent quite a lot of time washing each shell carefully, sorting them by size, and arranging them for display on some blue paper plates. He loves those shells. (I still feel a little guilty for not being able to bring him along...I've already promised him that next trip, it's his turn to come along.)

Oh, and as for the whole reason I was in Florida in the first place, the performances went well. Very well, in fact! It's even possible Dr. Julia will invite me back for another recital sometime in the next couple of years, though I certainly don't want to get ahead of myself. 

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

don't eat the snow

I'm so lucky my kids don't eat snow. I'm not sure how I avoided this particular problem, but it seems to be an unbreakable habit with most other children, and I don't understand why they insist on doing it. I hear other parents reminding their kids over and over "Don't eat the snow! That's been on the street/under someone's shoes/on the playground, and it's yucky," and yet, so often the targets of these warnings stare blankly back and continue to lick the snow off their mittens and coat sleeves.

Don't get me wrong. My kids have other annoying habits, like Daniel's constant need to make noise all the time, as if there is something wrong with having a silent moment in a conversation, and Anya's tendency to grab on my waist for a snuggle and kiss just when I'm holding a cup of hot tea. And both of them clear their throats so often I have to start taking them to voice therapy. I'm not kidding about this one. The other day on the way to Daniel's piano lesson, there was a solid five minutes of "Ahem..ahem...ahem...ahem...ah, ah, ahem..." from the back seat. It just about makes me cross-eyed, though until we find out whether it's related to drainage from allergies or just an unfortunate habit, I have to be extremely patient. They both stutter on and off, too, so this is rather delicate territory.

But I digress. In any case, the other day I had on public radio in the car, and there was a veterinarian featured on a talk show explaining to a lady on the phone just why it is a bad idea to keep a raccoon as a pet. There are many, many reasons not to keep a raccoon as a pet (why would a person even want to??), not the least of which is that there are nematodes present in raccoon droppings that, when ingested, will crawl up into your brain, cause devastating neurological problems, and then make you die. I know that sounds dramatic, and who goes around eating raccoon feces anyway?

Well. Where do raccoons do their business? Anywhere they want, I would suppose, which would include open sandboxes (note to self: never leave the sandbox cover off at night) and presumably just about anywhere else they happen to wander at night, like yards and parks and other places children play, and yes, eat the snow.

So, I have a message for all children out there who think snow looks like a cool and tasty treat: yo, listen to your mothers and don't eat the snow. It might crawl into your brain and kill you.

Sunday, January 06, 2013


No one could ever accuse me of being a fashionista. I only dress up when I have to perform, and that generally includes variations on a theme of black, and I don't wear heels unless it is absolutely necessary. And my definition of when heels are absolutely necessary is "almost never", the notable exception of late being a few performances of an art song recital with a voice professor friend of mine. Singers have a way of performing in fancy-schmancy clothes, and their pianists ought to follow suit!

In any case, my daily attire usually consists of jeans and cheap, plain t-shirts from Target, which are fine and all, but lately even those are wearing out, so I decided to go shopping this afternoon to try and alleviate my wardrobe problem. My birthday was about a week ago, and I told Stuart that part of my present would be an opportunity to buy some clothes without feeling guilty about it, and he didn't argue.

So I spent the whole afternoon at the large mall on the west side of Madison, and to be honest, it was nearly awful (only nearly, because I didn't leave empty-handed). My feet hurt and after three hours I didn't find one, not a single, solitary shirt that I liked. I must have wandered through ten stores, and they were all filled with hideous crap, some of it expensive hideous crap, but crap all the same. All I could find were tops featuring peplums or batwing sleeves or hemlines that look like a drunk cut them out. And the colors! Sherbet orange, vile green, and pinkish coral, none of which I can wear with any sort of dignity, batwing sleeves or no. And I bet I'm not the only one.

Fortunately, brightly colored corduroy skinnies are in, so I came home with a pair of red ones, plus a skirt, and a nice pair of black pants to add to the rotation of accompanying attire.

Seriously, is it just me, or are the fashion trends this season just Awful? Like capital A Awful? Maybe it is just me, aging a bit and stuck in my ways. I mean, if I could really dress the way I wanted all the time, I'd just live in black t-shirts, skinny jeans (or bright cords!) and hand knit sweaters with boots in winter and $3 flip-flops in summer. (I need shoes, too, but ran out of gas before I could even start looking.)

I just want to wear something other than the tired SAHM uniform, at least every now and then. I don't need to be a fashionista every day or be on top of every trend...goodness knows neither the budget nor our small house with tiny (ahem, inadequate) closets could hand it anyway. Today I was hoping to find a few nice tops, maybe something with a cowl neck or tunic length with cool pockets or even just stripes in colors that won't make my skin look green. I guess I picked the wrong season. Maybe next year the trends will improve.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013


Because I think New Year's resolutions are kind of stupid, I'm a hypocrite for even posting this, but it seems fun, so what the hey. In any case, it seems like a fun sort of Q&A. I'm totally swiping this from the DALS blog (btw, I read the book a few months ago and it's fun, plus the chicken pot pie recipe is to die for, and this is coming from a gal who isn't big on meat-and-potatoes comfort food!)

What I resolve to do more of in 2013: run, swim, bike, perform (not necessarily in that order)

What I resolve to do less of in 2013: waste time online (not getting a good start here...), mope

What I resolve not to say to my spouse: "How do you feel about getting your dirty socks in the hamper instead of beside it?"

What I resolve not to say to my children: "You guys are driving me bonkers."

What I resolve to eat less of: sugar

What I resolve to eat more of: interesting grains, the sort that vegans love (bulgar, quinoa, amaranth, that sort of thing), though I have no intention of going vegan (ew)

What I resolve to learn how to cook: at least one good vegetarian curry. Well, I do a pretty mean saag paneer but it calls for so much cream that I need to learn some other  curry that doesn't make my heart hurt.

What non-required reading I resolve to attend to: seeing as I finished grad school long ago, none of the reading I do is required, but I plan to start with Anna Karenina, One Thousand White Women and Flight Behavior (signed by the author - booyah!) and more of the NYTimes

What I resolve to convince my spouse to read: There's just no point because we almost never read the same things. He's into Russian novels and heavy philosophical essays by the likes of Christopher Hitchens, and I'm...not.

Restaurant I want to try: any! We almost never go out to eat. I've been jonesing for some good authentic south Asian food lately, though.

Restaurant I want to return to: See above.

I resolve to finally try: yoga (again) and learning Spanish. These are two things I've wanted to do my entire adult life and have never gotten around to it. Is is too late  for me?

I resolve to teach my kids: to read, to knit, to cook, to sing, to appreciate nature, and to make a peanut butter sandwich unassisted

I resolve to spend less money on: landscaping. Between the new retaining wall we had built by the driveway and the dead tree removal (including one requiring an emergency middle-of-the-night chainsaw crew), the budget took a big hit in 2012.

I resolve to get Zen about: laundry breeding in the hamper, and germs

What I resolve to accomplish professionally: sigh. I don't know. I should make a plan, though, instead of just griping about the fact that having two young kids makes pursuing my professional life in any meaningful way essentially impossible.

Anyone else want to join the fun?

Tuesday, January 01, 2013


I think we need to establish some New Year traditions as a family. This is tricky for us, since we have extended family scattered all over the country, so we never know from one year to the next where exactly we'll be during the holiday season. It's hard to establish traditions when you're rarely in the same town two years in a row. This time around we were in Kentucky for the week of Christmas, then back to Madison on the 30th, so we've been decompressing from the trip: unpacking, unwinding, and going sledding to get the wiggles out.

It's been nice to have a couple days to ourselves, but today has been sort of a letdown for me. There's no particular reason for it, I think, except that having no expectations or rituals made the day feel kind of empty. That and coming home after a week surrounded by family (we were at my parents' place and were fortunate to have Stuart's parents come to stay for a few days, then my brother and his wife joined us after Christmas) always makes me feel a little homesick, not for Kentucky especially, but for the people we saw there.

Also, when I look at the year ahead, I don't see any particular opportunities for me, which makes me feel both sad and selfish. I'm constantly evaluating and re-evaluating my personal life (which is good) and my professional life (going nowhere) and I just can't resolve my feelings about that. I'm in a state of total ambivalence. And also guilt because who am I to complain about my lot in life when I'm healthy and comfortable and other people are suffering so much more than I? That's my mental state in a nutshell, just saying.

So anyway, even though I think New Year's resolutions are pointless (after the first week, who even remembers or cares what they resolved to do?), I guess one thing I would like to do is come up with a plan for the new year next time around. Starting off with a clean house would be nice. Giving away all the junk and old toys we don't use and clothes we don't wear would certainly help with that. Cooking and eating good food is central to our family life, so we could establish some kind of culinary tradition. (For example, last night for New Year's Eve we made New Mexican-style flat enchiladas, a beloved dish from my childhood.)

Then again, how is that really so different from every other day? I'm always trying (and failing) to keep my house reasonably clean. I'm always cooking. I even always have a bag of old clothes sitting by the dresser waiting to be dropped off at the thrift store. Maybe my problem is just that I'm out of good ideas.

What about you? What do you do to welcome the new year?