Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Everybody gets a star!

You get a star!
You get a star!
You get a star!
Everybody gets a star!

Tonight, I feel a little bit like I imagine Oprah felt after her big car giveaway. It's fun to give unexpected gifts. It's even more fun to give them to people you don't know...

Today, Elise took a nap. It's been eons since she slept of an afternoon, and was it ever wonderful! I have a long standing promise to her that we can go stargazing together if she sleeps at rest time. The rationale here is that, while I'd love to take her out every night, my girl needs a nap to make it much past 7pm.

We're pretty excited about Jupiter's moons these days, and Elise really wanted to see one disappear behind the planet. Consulting the various charts at my disposal, I discovered that Io would be casting a shadow on Jupiter at just about the right time this evening, so we made our plan. Not quite the same as watching a moon disappear, but very exciting to watch a shadow from such a distance!

Seeing conditions aren't brilliant from our neighborhood, between the train stations, train yard, airport and plethora of street lights. Things were also a little hazy in Jupiter's neighborhood tonight, so we didn't end up seeing Io's shadow.

But Elise noticed when the moon finally made it above the train yard. Wow, was she excited. The full moon will do that to a kid, apparently. So, we set our sights on the moon. Andy joined us by then, and we were having a regular family moongazing party right there on our sidewalk on a warm fall evening.

And then, it seemed like a good portion of the neighborhood was out for a walk. We shared our view with dog walkers, old people, young people, skeptical people, enthusiastic people. Our last taker was a dad from two rows of townhomes over who was absolutely thrilled to be invited for a peek on his way home.

It's awe-inspiring to have access to such incredible views. It's even better to get to share them with neighbors you didn't know you had. Technically, I wasn't giving away views of stars-"just" the moon-but "star" rhymes better with what Oprah said.

Uncharacteristically, I'm going to assign homework to my readers. Head outside and look up this evening. Or tomorrow morning if you wake up early. What can you see from where you're at? A lot of stars? A few stars that peek through the light pollution where you live? Does the moon indeed hit your eye like a big pizza pie? It doesn't matter if you don't know the names of stuff up there, just look up. For extra credit, if you have any sort of binoculars at all, you could take them out and explore the difference between what you can see with your eyes and what you can see with the binoculars. Let me know what you see, and also with whom you see it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

We're winners!

Awhile back, we entered a contest run by the fantastic bloggers at Would You Like Kiwi with That, never dreaming that we could win. And now we have! Fabulous prizes all the way from New Zealand. Thank you, Auntie Roni and Uncle Peter!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

We're taking back the dinosaurs

For those of you who thought the Creation Museum was a hoax when I wrote about it previously, you are right. It's run by Answers in Genesis, and it's all a very sincere attempt to convince the gullible that their fondest wishes can come true, even retroactively. Whuh? People living in harmony with dinosaurs, for example. Really? Oh yeah. That and much, much more. If you can believe it, it must be true...

Holy feathered velociraptors, Batman!

The bumper sticker proclaiming "We're taking back the dinosaurs!" (from whom, the paleontologists?!) was particularly funny this afternoon. We saw this bit of Creation Museum advertising when we were on our way back from seeing some scientific propaganda suggesting the moon landings weren't faked. And some really creepy stuff about how the Earth is more than six thousand years old. Sigh. And the Chabot Space and Science Center seemed so "family friendly" when we were looking at their website...

All joking aside, Chabot is a great place. It is friendly to kids of all ages, and we particularly liked the Discovery Lab. Even the cafe was a great experience. The whole thing reminded me of the Adler back in Chicago, except on a smaller scale and aimed at a slightly younger audience. Also better maintained, what with lower traffic and all. This is a place we could visit more often, in spite of the longish trip up to the East Bay. It doesn't hurt that our Tech Museum membership gets us discounted admission at Chabot as well. (And don't tell Elise's crusty old grandpappy, but it shares parking facilities with a regional park and an archery range.)

We took in a planetarium show about the solar system which was aimed at kids slightly older than Elise. It was a pretty good time. ("Mom! My pants look light blue in here! Why?" Oh, your questions make your parents so proud, little girl.) We talked a lot about how Grandma Char used to fall asleep at planetarium shows when I was a kid (Elise agreed it would be a great place for a nap), and we enlisted her help to wake us up if we started nodding off. She did so by hollering occasional responses to the show, Dora style.

"That's NEPTUNE! It's almost OVER! The movie is ALMOST OVER!!!!!"

She was mite disappointed to discover that this was an older show which included Pluto as a planet, and couldn't figure out why they'd indulged in this nonsense. We've talked about how people used to think Pluto was a planet, so Elise's disappointment was more of a "Get with the times, guys," rather than, "How could you get it so wrong?" That's my girl! Also, forty minutes is a long time for an almost-four-year-old to sit still and stare at the ceiling. Even if it's a cool ceiling.

I was impressed by how much they could pack into a 40 minute show. I was also impressed by how behind the current research a relatively new production could be. It wasn't just Pluto's classification as a planet rather than a dwarf planet that made parts of this planetarium presentation "old news". It was the dated images of Mars and the disappointingly sparse images of the outer solar system. And forget mention of Neptune's warm south pole and all of the cool new stuff we now know about Mars. We're learning so much so quickly from the likes of Cassini and so many others. How amazing and awe-inspiring.

My tie-in/wrap-up here is that I'm really glad it was "We're taking back the dinosaurs" rather than "We're taking back the solar system," or "We're taking back the universe." Is it just easier to co-opt history and biology than it is to disavow physics? Or is this being done regularly now and I'm just reading the wrong stuff? I want to know, even though I suspect I probably really don't want to know.

Sorry about the mess of links in this post. There was so much fun stuff to which I could link! (But watch out for this last one-it contains "adult" aka sophomoric language.) Sometimes I fantasize about writing stuff on Wikipedia, apparently.

Theory of Mind

Every once in awhile Andy and I look at one another and say, "We're in trouble." Tonight after Elise's bath was one of those times.

Some months ago, Elise began chewing on Teri Bear's ear for comfort. (Teri is the purple panda that has gone everywhere with us since Elise was about 5 months old.) Right around that time, she decided that the saliva soaked ear contained sunscreen, which later morphed into bandaids. Now, anytime she has a scrape or a bruise she rubs that wet ear all over the injury. Apparently, the fear of rampant infection causes those things to heal right up!

Well, Elise was dawdling about getting ready for her bath tonight so Andy went to check on her. She was busily rubbing Teri's ear on her leg, and Andy said our usual, "Please don't do that, it's icky and gross."

In the tub, Elise said, "Let's talk about it later." (A la George and Martha when George won't stop eating sweets and Martha is worried about him.) And then, "I don't like it when you say those things about Teri's ear. Because I like it." Wow-very clear communication! It's still gross, but I'm glad you're not doing something you think is gross too. "I think it's beautiful," she says. "I'll just do it when you don't have to see it, Dad."

So, to sum up, our child knows we don't like this distasteful habit of bathing her wounds in saliva. But she's still gonna do it. And, so she doesn't have to hear us harp on it, she's gonna do it when we can't see her. Super.

After tonight's discussion, we know that she knows that we know she's going to continue doing as she pleases with regard to Teri's ear. I also suspect that she knows that we know that she knows that we know she's going to be deceptive about this, and she is glad to have got it all cleared up.

Shouldn't she be waiting to perfect this sort of thing until she wants to sneak out with her friends to go drinking or something? I was kind of hoping she wouldn't be quite so practiced by the time she gets to the "or something," you know what I mean?

Oh, we are in so much trouble.

I don't often solicit parenting advice (because of course we are perfect at this) but if any of you have any suggestions as to what we can do about this, I'd be grateful. Because, in my darker moments I can imagine the pediatrician's stony glare when she tells us Elise's finger needs amputating because of a gangrenous hangnail. Or at the very least I'm gonna get really tired of throwing the bear in the wash every day to keep the germs fresh.

Friday, September 21, 2007

What's with the "A"

Didja notice the shiny new letter A at the top of the sidebar? If you click on it, you can read about Richard Dawkins' "Out Campaign." A brief hint-it has nothing to do with Hester Prynne.

I didn't jump on the bandwagon at first because I thought it was a little silly. Really, a scarlet letter?! But then, I got thinking about how silence is often construed as agreement. I know I have some crutches that inhibit my rational thinking, but belief in the supernatural isn't one of them.

So, out and proud.*

*And now you're imagining an Atheist Pride parade. Admit it, you are. Woud it be colorful and full of drag queens? Dunno. But if you hunt for the scarlet A around the interwebs and around your town, you're likely to meet the most interesting and wonderful people. Even if you think the earth is flat and God planted dinosaur fossils to fake us out because everyone knows people and dinosaurs lived in the garden of eden and the moon is made of green cheese and jellybeans are really rabbit poops that have been blessed by Saggitarian fairies. And Mitt Romney has magic underpants.

Twilight Zone

Hey! With a title like that you'd figure this is an astronomy post. Only kind of. My shiny new observing chair arrived today, and I can't wait until it stops raining to see what a difference it makes. Wahoo!

Last night, Elise and I tried "camping" in the spare bedroom in anticipation of the big three-day star party next month. We learned that our gear is way too warm for inside on the 3rd floor, and that the novelty can wear off somewhere around 11pm. Now that she's used to the idea of the tent and sleeping bag, I figure that the worst-case scenario for the star party is that she'll be up to look at the sky most of the night with me. And be an exhausted, unmanageable beast the next day. Sounds like fun! I think she will be more into camping outside, though, and I'm looking forward to next month's outing.

So, I really named this post "Twilight Zone" because one of the blogs I read regularly sent me there today in a big way. Dooce is written by a woman (coincidentally named Heather) whose daughter is about the same age as Elise. Her stories regularly remind me of the things that we experience here. Our kids have a lot of the same habits, fears, shining moments. Today, Heather made two posts that felt so autobiographical I figured I'd send pointers along to those of you who might not have already read them.

The first was a post about her recent trip to San Francisco. It reminded me a lot of our experience in London. Sure, we've focused on the good parts because there were some good times, but there was also a whole lot of abject misery. Hunger strikes, screaming fits, sleep deprivation and much, much more! And it is still with us a year and a half later because the turbulence on the flight over gave birth to a real anxiety around "fast roads." The screaming has diminished over time, but every trip on an expressway sets us back in terms of what we can do in a day. It's hard, frustrating, and part of our lives that we're learning to deal with. But back to the post, which was fairly dripping with defeat by the end. One paragraph really stood out and perfectly described how I've felt for a long time:

I felt guilty that I really didn’t enjoy staying at home, guilty that sometimes I wished to be any other place than here. Everything that they tell you about the love you’ll have for your child is true, but there’s all this other stuff that is true, too, stuff that you’re afraid to talk about, stuff that you carry around and try to hide. Stuff like resentment and fear and anxiety and longing.

Yup. That says it pretty well. Not every day leaves me feeling like this, but the difficult ones do. I was not prepared for this emotional rollercoaster, and it feels like I've been on this "fast road" for four years now. I love my girl, and I'm also conflicted about my identity as a mother. Heady stuff, and it's a huge relief to see that I am not completely alone in this.

The second post of the day that got me described how she often doesn't write about the things her daughter does because she gets tired of people writing to her and considerately telling her that her daugher is autistic. She has a giant readership, so you might imagine that's a lot of busybodies. Now, from what I read on the blog, our kids have a practically identical temperament. We have the same sorts of daily battles that cause most of my friends to look at me wide eyed and say, "Really?!"

Right or not, (and in her case and ours NOT) it's a wildly unfair person who labels a kid they don't quite "get" as somehow defective. Different from the norm, yes, but what's wrong with that? It makes a mom feel crazy and isolated, but the more I do this motherhood thing the more I think that was inevitable anyway. It's just that we can't pick the parts of it that make us crazy. Or the parts that make us whole.

Camping out in the spare bedroom last night, Elise reached her little hand out of her sleeping bag and touched my arm saying, "Mommy, I love you." And she really, really meant it. The great thing about twilight is that it really is that time between sunlight and starlight. Shadows throw things into sharp relief, bringing out detail and beauty that would have otherwise been missed. Fortification for the darkness ahead, the seeds of anticipation for the next light. Reading about another mother's trials and triumphs puts me squarely in that zone and I'm grateful.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Wow, am I ever glad I don't have time for daytime TV. This mess hit the blogosphere like a tidal wave today, and it's everywhere. Everywhere, I tell you!

Quick-is the world round or flat?

If you answered, "I don't know-it's something I've never really cared to think about," you could be a host on a daytime TV talkshow! Yeah, really.

And then you and your like-minded friends could talk about how having a realistic conceptual picutre of the world around you would really get in the way of your parenting. Yeah, really.

Now, it's true that a lot of humanity never travels more than 50 miles from home and potentially doesn't really need to know that the sun has been traveling around the earth for the entire 6 thousand years of its existence. But gosh. This gal would have to take her kid to the library if he asked her about the basic nature of the planet on which he lives. Yeah, really.

As I get older, I get crankier when I encounter people who have decided that they get by just fine on their intuitions and opinions thank you very much. No facts needed, please don't clutter things up with logic either. Is this worse since the Cult of Oprah, or has it always been this way? And do we have hope for the future?

More importantly, if I walk too far in any one direction, will I fall off the planet? I mean, what if I get lost on the way to the library and fall right off the planet before I can get to the answer?

Crazy for Camping

I've been having trouble sleeping lately in anticipation of an upcoming three day star party. This means camping. Camping! My plan is to do this on my own, refine the process and then drag the family along next time. But we may go all-out and bring everyone this time. Not sure.

The outdoor store up the street was having a sale on tents last weekend, so I let the nice man talk me into a large tent that he claimed he could set up by himself. He is apparently much smarter/more coordinated than I am, as I found it to be a two-person job. (At least in our living room.) Waaaay too big for just me to take to a star party. So then I went to Target and got a cheap, smaller tent. It's significantly less nice, but I can put it up in the spare bedroom with "help" from Elise. Perfect.

Then, I bought a sleeping bag. And a self-inflating pad thingie. And a tarp. In the next little bit I get to acquire a camp stove, some camping pots and dishes. A folding camp table would be nice too. And a telescope that doesn't take up half of the back end of the car so that I can fit more camping gear? Hmmmm...

Anyway, I solicited advice from fellow astro club members as to what they bring. I figure I can be adequately outfitted for this deal for somewhere around $5000.00. Hmmm. Well, it looks like it will probably take another couple hundred and then the whole family can camp any time we want. Wahoo! It's a good thing we have that rooftop carrier for the car, though, because astronomy gear takes up an awful lot of room.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


"MOMmy! The cat's HEAD is in the TOILET."

Does this conjure up the same gruesome image it did for me? I was mildly terrified until I realized that this is just another part of Flapjack's second kittenhood. She has suddenly started behaving like a kitten again, which means that she's trying out some new things. Like drinking from toilets. I can almost see the thoughts going through her fuzzy little head. "Wow, guys! Did you know that this house has three built in water dishes and they're huge?!

This new phase of Flapjack's life has been good for us all. She's suddenly behaving herself at night which means we can dispense with the "zappy-toes" mat we'd been keeping in front of our bedroom door. We actually leave our bedroom door open at night and Flapjack sometimes comes in to snuggle. This is a marked change from the rampant destruction that led us to bar her from the bedroom at night in the first place. Good kitty!

Another family member who's a lot more pleasant these days is Beaker. I can tell it's creeping toward fall here because his afternoon shriek-fest has moved from the 5:30pm of summer to about 4:00. That means he's pretty well got it out of his system by the time Andy gets home at night, and he can settle in to just making happy noises and begging for pizza crusts when we have pizza for dinner. Good birdie!

When Elise and I wandered out to get the mail yesterday she informed me that, "Mommy, I want a dog instead." Instead of what? Well, it turns out she wants someone else to take on walks. On a leash. We've been discussing how Flapjack isn't really constitutionally disposed to such things. We're also working on our understanding of time.

"Maybe someday, Sweethart."

"Like next month, or maybe in December!"

"Well, I was thinking more like in a year or two."

"Okay-so like next week?"

"Hmmm, no we're definitely not getting a dog next week."

"How about tomorrow then?"

"Not tomorrow, Elise. In a longer time than that."

"Let's get a dog in two hours, Mommy." (As if that settles it, then.)

"I was thinking more like two years, when you're five-and-a-half."


At this point in our conversation a man walking by on the sidewalk busted out laughing and effectively tabled the discussion.

Two hours is a long time in our world, and two years is incomprehensibly long. Poor kiddo. Maybe Flapjack will be up for some leash training again soon...

Monday, September 10, 2007

Preschool Blues

It was too good to last. Or maybe it was never going to live up to its billing. Either way, we're done with Making Friends Preschool. We'd been considering this move for awhile, since each day of preschool left Elise out of control, not herself, and all of us exhausted. After our trip to Montana, I was pretty well convinced it was time to give our thirty days' notice and find a better situation.

We returned on the first school day of September to find that the new families Clara had promised had indeed arrived. Yay! More kids! More potential friends! Clara had been billing this as a positive thing for about a month, and I was pretty excited. Until I realized that not a one of them spoke English.

This might not have been a big deal, since when we originally joined the school there were kids who had a number of different native languages. However, English was the only common one among them so it seemed like a good way to get Elise exposed to different languages and a diverse environment. As the summer progressed, however, the balance changed. Instead of diverse languages, the students of the school were speaking primarily Hebrew. This meant that as time went on, there were fewer and fewer reasons for other kids to try to include Elise because they could of course converse with one another just fine.

I was frustrated by this shift of balance back in July, but Clara assured me it was temporary and that Elise wouldn't be the odd one out forever as new children would be joining soon.

Imagine my surprise just after Labor Day when I arrived to find several new children all chattering happily in Hebrew. Lest anyone stumbling on this blog by accident think I'm some sort of crazy anti-semite, it wouldn't matter what language all of the other kids were speaking in my estimation. I didn't sign my kid up for a foreign language school experience, and here it was without any notice and apparently some subterfuge to boot. Why didn't this teacher tell me that the situation about which I'd already expressed concern was going to be getting more so? Hmm?!!! I dunno, but it annoyed me to no end.

Suddenly, Elise's withdrawal and unmanageable behavior after school became very clearly explained. Even assuming she was getting adequate attention from the teacher, she was completely isolated from her peers. How miserable. We all experience being the odd one out at some point in life, but we have the power to shield Elise from that in preschool. Good grief. When we left, there were 2 (out of 8 or so) other students in the school who were not native Hebrew speakers. Neither one of them looked really happy, either.

We went from having 30 days' notice to find something more suitable to an immediate withdrawal. This meant that, in spite of what I consider misrepresentation by the owner of the preschool, we were out the cost of school for 1 month. Yikes. We did sign the contract, though, so technically she was entitled. In the end, I felt like she fell short of the person with whom we'd originally contracted.

I picked Elise up early on her final day as a treat to soften the blow somewhat. Clara said some horribly mean things to me, most aimed at criticizing my judgment as a mother and of course the very nature of my child. I'm willing to cut Clara some slack on that since she's going through hard times right now. But not enough slack to trust her with our girl again. No way. Good riddance.

So, the search begins again for a reasonable preschool experience for Elise. I've got some leads. We'll keep you posted.

San Francisco Jugfest

Wow-it's been so long since I've posted that I nearly forgot how! Sorry about that, faithful readers. I've got distracted (more about that in another post) and am finally back to writing.

A few weeks ago was the San Francisco Jugband Festival. It was even jugband weekend in San Francisco as declared by the mayor, so of course a big deal. In honor of the occasion, Arlo & Sally came to attend the festival and scope out the Bay Area. Elise really liked having two more grownups around to talk to and play with. We all liked seeing friendly faces from the Windy City at the breakfast table in the morning. I especially liked having good company in which to attend the weekend's jugtastic festivities.

On Saturday, Sally, Arlo & I hit the bandshell in Golden Gate Park for a day of area jugbands. Saturday evening was the world premiere of Chasin' Gus' Ghost, a documentary about jugband music. Sunday night was a concert featuring such shining stars of the jugband firmament as John Sebastian, Jim Kweskin, Geoff Muldaur and Maria Muldaur. Of course, I managed to forget to take pictures through most of it, but I did get quite a number of shots of performers on stage Sunday night.

There are many things I wanted to say about this great event right after it happened, but I've mostly forgotten them. The documentary was decent but didn't entirely favor my understanding of the history of some of the performers and bands. John Sebastian seems like a genuinely decent guy, and I can see why he has such a following around here. Jim Kweskin came across as either a little shy or a little egomaniacal and I couldn't tell which. It was easy to see how and that Maria Muldaur has been a working musician all these years even as the guys from the Kweskin band dropped out and did other things.

Of all the things I saw, heard and did over the weekend, three things stood out.

1. We saw people dancing on unicycles. Very nifty. Hop to it, Uncle Peter!
2. It's weird to go to a restaurant and have the family's 10 year old son seat you and take your order while his teenage brother brings the food and mom handles the check.
3. Public bathrooms are loud. I heard a kid having the same conversation about public toilets that Elise and I always seem to have, and on the way out the door I commented on this to the mother. She looked relieved to hear that her kid isn't the only one who hates loud toilets to the point of distraction. It turns out that she was Jim Kweskin's daughter, and the frightened child was his grandson. If public toilets are too loud for kin of Jim Kweskin, I figure it's a sign of good taste that they're too loud for my kid, too.

And now for the pictures!

The Barbeque Orchestra, the Portland-based band of the late Fritz Richmond

David Grisman and John Sebastian

Geoff Muldaur, still the gentleman I remember from the last time I saw him

The Barbeque Orchestra with John Sebastian, Jim Kweskin and Geoff Muldaur
Maria Muldaur (flanked by Sebastian & Kweskin)

Almost everybody who played at this concert...
Yup, that's everyone now.