Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Approaching Christmas

The time between the end of classes and this week has been angst-ridden. Not enough cookies made (sorry!), not the presents I wanted to give, not the schedule I had worked out in my own little idealistic mind, not the way I wanted to feel. I ended up showing Chris the scarf I'm making him so that I could knit it while he's around (which, now that classes are over, he always is! Any other time of year I would be so happy about this, but I found myself creating errands for him to get him out of the house so I could just knit twenty more rows...madness).

But now, we have only two days left and I am letting go of all the undone, unperfect, unaffordable, unbaked little monkeys stacked up on my back. Christmas cards not done? I'm sure people will still open them if they arrive after Christmas. No beautiful plate of cookies for the daycare teachers? I bet they also like fudge. Didn't send cookies to all the people I usually do? I'm (pretty) sure they will still love me.

Reaching this point - and I am as familiar with this point as with the mania that precedes it, as it seems to be part of my own holiday tradition, with the turning point usually landing on the solstice (here comes the sun!) - is always a bittersweet relief. This year it is mostly relief, because there is so much actual sweetness going around the house.

While I think that next year will really be the year that Cora puts it all together, I have to say that she is doing pretty good this year, too. She jumped up and down clapping when she saw our Christmas tree, squealing, "My Christmas tree, my *Christmas* tree!" We've tracked Rudolph in the snow and she cried when other reindeer made fun of his/her nose (Rudolph's gender is in flux) in the TV show. She loved Santa's visit to her school last week and the little stuffed bunny he gave her. She expects baby Jesus to show up at church any time now, and also wants him to have a birthday party.

I can't wait for her to come down the stairs Christmas morning and see the dollhouse we're giving her. We only have three presents under the tree right now, and she has been so good. Only once has she picked one up and asked to open it. I went through the list of days until Christmas with her and why we were waiting and she did eventually put it back under the tree. I praised her good listening and she came and sat on my lap and whispered, "Can I have a sticker for good listening?" And we put one on her chart - right by the drawing of her ear, which she loves to touch and say, "That my ear? That me listening?"

So, I'm ready to put away my lists (except for the grocery list!) and just enjoy the magic. But, I do firmly believe that those lists are part of what makes the magic happen. I'm not making any resolutions to abandon my mania-release cycle; just being aware that it is a cycle is enough for me.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Photo essay: Thanksgiving to now

So, these photos aren't really in the right order, but it is kind of a pain in Blogger to move them around - so we'll just deal with it! This is an up close shot of the sweater I made for Cora - it matches the new hat you'll see below. She's getting this for Christmas, and I am excited, because I just knit a freaking SWEATER!!

The whole thing - not as psychedelic in person. I promise.

Today Cora and Chris went out in the snow storm and she made me this heart with her footprints. This is something I did for her when we were up north last weekend. Then, she had me make one for Rudolph, and she made a snow angel in the middle of that one.

She tells us she likes being cold. I am inclined to believe her.

Up at the North Shore, contemplating Lake Superior.

Tracking Rudolph last weekend.

Enjoying a rice cake snack in the cabin.

The new hat - she got this one early because she doesn't have many hats that fit her this year.

She was sick at the end of November, and Daddy brought her home some get-well flowers.

Our post-Thanksgiving snowfall. Admittedly, it looks pretty pathetic by today's 6-8" standards, but it was fun at the time.

Amazing sewing...not here, but see link

If you're a fabulous sewer, you will love looking at the stuff on the Grosgrain blog. If you are a not-so-fabulous-but-enthusiastic sewer, you will also love it. If you are a not-so-fabulous-not-enough-time sewer (like me) you will love it and turn green from envy. Especially when you see a dress like this:

Tree Lighting Wrap Frock GIVEAWAY!!!!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Baking Day Playlist

(Now this kind of day makes me happy!)

Taj Mahal, Senor Blues
Uncle Bonsai, Boys Want Sex in the Morning
Sheryl Crow, Tuesday Night Music Club
Professor Trance, Shaman's Breath
Van Morrison, Tupelo Honey
Liz Phair, WhiteChocolateSpaceEgg


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What I notice versus what she notices

We had a nice weekend away from home, at a cabin on the north shore of Lake Superior - one of my very favorite places to be. We took only fun stuff, no work, and food we all would like. It was snowy and Cora, the only one of us to own snowpants, loved that. A lot. We followed deer tracks - Rudolph track, she insisted (and, did you know Rudolph is a girl?). She was disappointed that we never saw Rudolph, but decided it was okay if Rudolph was home drinking hot cocoa. She noticed some little tiny footprints in the snow - a vole, maybe. I did a lot of knitting! Chris took a nap! Crazy times.

We had heard there might be big snow coming on Saturday and Sunday, but we'd made these plans back in October (one of my birthday presents!). The cabin does not have cable. Or a radio. Turns out, there was a big long blizzard headed right for us on our drive home.

It was a scary drive, the little bit of it we accomplished on Sunday. After an hour of whiteout conditions, we were happy to stop and find a hotel in Duluth and then find the one place still open and willing to deliver food in the freezing snowy windy cold. Monday morning, as Cora and I waited in the foyer for Chris to swipe off, warm up, and bring the car around, a very tall man in a cut-off t-shirt, jeans, ball cap over his pony tail, and many many many tattoos stepped out to see how cold it was. As he walked past Cora I saw her staring at him, wide-eyed. Yes, I could hear the wheels turning.

Sure enough, as soon as he walked past us again, Cora, who now has that toddler-with-a-lot-to-say-stutter, said, "Mama, he's got, he's got, he's got, he's got COFFEE!!"

Indeed, he had a steaming hot cup of coffee in his hand.

He smiled at her, told her she was a little young for coffee. She introduced him to Ariel, and then gave a long speech about how she was Ariel-mommy Queen Athena and her babies were all Ariels, all the while walking in a circle in front of him. He made appropriate noises and gave me a quizzical glance. "She's really into pretending right now," I explained. He asked how old she was and nodded when I told him. Then he said, "My daughter's 12 now. I really miss this age!" We wished each other good driving, and he continued on through the lobby.

Cora didn't once mention his tattoos. I was really surprised, because she does notice and talk about graffiti (and how those people really should have used paper instead), and so I thought this would be a huge new topic of conversation. Not so much. Times like this I'm glad that I wait to see what she's going to say before I jump in to explain something I think she's thinking about. Because usually, she has something entirely different on her mind.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

When the 2.5 year old insists...

...that the chicken should be dipped in the peanut butter and the apples in the ketchup, it is best just to nod, be glad she is eating everything on her plate, and try very hard not to imagine the taste.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Nothing says, "Feel better!" like your daughter finally putting new pictures up...

Cora in her new clothes - she wanted Pete to stand next to her so you could see what a big girl she is.

Is this a pixie or what?

The artist at work.

Where's the party? Right in our living room 24/7. I'm pretty sure there are actually two more skirts on under that pink one.

Oh, the mermaid love....

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Is it a coincidence that we had a better bedtime on a school day? Probably not. But tonight after dinner, Cora seemed tired. She actually let Chris put pajamas on her. Then she brushed her teeth. They went upstairs and watched a few videos on YouTube (I heard a lot of drumming) while I chatted with my mom online*. Then...she was asleep by a little after 8pm.

Maybe it's the daddy magic. But I think at least part of it is that when she is at school she'll nap at the usual time, just not at home. We have to get this figured out, though, because it is almost end of the semester crunch time, when we will need our evenings for grading.

*We had to chat online because I can't talk. I can whisper, a little, but WedMD tells me I should not whisper - I should just speak softly. Uh huh. I'm hoping this goes away soon. It is challenging to teach when you can't talk. Especially when it is a book I would really like to talk about! We are in the middle of Atwood's Alias Grace. Every time I read it, it gets better.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Why is she not asleep?!


I'm not sure who is going to break into tears first, me or Chris, but frankly I am betting on me, because I have already been here about, oh, three times in the last week.

Her sleep is completely screwed up - not napping until 3pm, even when she gets up in the morning at a normal time. And the 3pm nap? It is awful, because someone who wakes up at 5pm is not going back to sleep at 8pm. Oh no. She is going to hang on to wakefulness with her little ragged claws of fingernails until 10pm or later.

And this effectively kills any chance I might have to wash dishes, watch TV, knit her something for Christmas, grade papers, read for class, or communicate with friends...which are ALL things I need to do for my sanity. Such as it is. Was. Whatever.

And yet, she will still have to get up at 7am.

So that, you know, we can do it all over again.

Except that I have to get up at 5:30. And, oh yeah, it would be nice if I could have my voice back, too.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Cool Mom Picks - Safer Toy Guide

I added a button, down there on the right, for the Cool Mom Picks Safer Toy Guide. On the Cool Mom Picks web site they've gathered some wonderful sites together - independent sellers, Etsy artists, sustainable material toymakers, etc. Something for just about every age - in afct, I've already bookmarked a few sites to consider. Check it out - it's cool!

Plus, now I can be in the gift certificate drawing, though really all I want is that kitchen playset so I can stop drawing gas burners on scrap paper every time Cora wants to make me some oatmeal!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

My reward for baking brownies today

I set Cora's little 1"x1" brownie in front of her after dinner tonight and she turned and looked at me in wonder and asked, "Is it my birthday today?"

Monday, November 10, 2008

Diamonds in the rough

Saturday night Cora fell asleep before 7pm, which enabled me to get the last 20 papers graded (whew, and ack). She woke around 11pm, and again around midnight when I came up to bed, but all in all a really good night.

Then came Sunday night and the two-hour bedtime battle. Now, I know that there are many mamas out there who would love a bedtime battle that was only two hours, and many who would love even more the way things usually go in our house, but last night really almost broke my patience.

Okay, it did break my patience, and eventually even the duct tape was starting to look a little fragile. We had stories, we had songs, we had wailing, we had weeping, we had more songs, we had flailing about, we had clinging. It was a miserable affair that ended with us just sitting in the chair under a blanket, in the dark, quietly, waiting to see who would fall asleep first. Thank goodness the papers were already done, because I had zero energy afterwards for anything more than boiling water for a hot buttered rum.

But in the midst of all the angst, there were two especially memorable moments for me. At one point Cora insisted that before she could go to sleep she had to fix my hair - or, as she would say, "I have to make you a haircut!" This basically consists of her telling me which way to look while she lifts up my hair and lets it fall in my face. This went on for about three weeks. Then she looked at me, holding my face in her little hands, and said, "Now you look so beautiful!"

Earlier in the day we had watched most of The Nutcracker Ballet - did I mention she is also now a ballerina? - and so, once we had moved on to the sitting quietly in the dark phase, she kept putting the blanket over her head. Finally, I had to ask her what she was doing. "I putting on my mousie mask, but you no worry Mommy, I not real mouse, I just pretending for my ballet dancing."

With each of these moments I felt a pang of regret that the rest of bedtime had been so miserable, for both of us, and a foolish wish to encourage the sweet moments to last longer, and a little chagrin about that last one. But most of all I felt grateful to be reminded that underneath the wailing, whining, crying, flailing, and screaming that surfaces once a week or so, there is still my sweeter-tempered, imaginative baby.

Friday, November 7, 2008

O Fall, are you really already done?

We had a little snow today - hardly even enough to call snow, really - and there is a lot of cold temperatures in our weeklong forecast. While I am not as dogmatically opposed to winter as I once was (well, and as I will be again come February), I do wish fall could linger a little longer.

Here are some photos from one of my favorite days this fall. Chris and Cora and I spent some time kicking around a little soccer ball in the sun, back in early October. We are trying to instill a love, or at least an appreciation, for the beautiful game. I don't know if she will ever earn the coveted nickname "The Foot" (like her Uncle Chris), but she's got pretty good form.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

9:42pm CST Election Night

Oh, America, are you really going to make me so happy?

This semester I taught a book of slave narratives - oral histories taken down in the 1930s from ex-slaves - alongside Toni Morrison's Beloved. Many students mentioned that they hadn't really considered what it meant to have an African-American presidential candidate, just from a socio-cultural-historical perspective. (Forgive them, they are 19 and rather sheltered.) While I don't think it changed anyone's vote (which was never my intention, anyway), I think it changed their understanding of the significance, and gave them a feeling of seeing history being made that they hadn't felt before. I find that pretty exciting in and of itself.

Monday, November 3, 2008

This morning

Cora was turned away from us at the table, talking to herself and looking at her hands. Finally I was able to make out part of what she was saying:

"Mommy Hand, do you have the diaper bag? Oh no Baby Hand I forgot it. Oh no Mommy Hand! Where your diaper bag?! Here it is! OK!"

I think Imaginative Play has arrived in a big, big way. Also, I think maybe I need to stop forgetting to bring the diaper bag places.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Manners, please.

We are working on manners at our house, and by "we" I mean Cora. She's got the big ones - please and thank you - down pat and I was pleased that even in the thrilling throes of trick-or-treating she remembered on her own to say "Thank you!" most of the time.

Her other favorite is "Sorry!" which gets a pretty wide and sometimes random distribution. She will say sorry for anything from kicking you in delicate places to being told she has to wait a minute for her drink. (I confess that when I have to wait for my drink, I tend to think the other person should apologize.)

But the social nicety we are currently working on is "Excuse me." She will usually say it as she runs over your foot with her little shopping cart, or while pushing past you on the couch, or if you are blocking her access to the hot stove, but then there's the burping. So, today we are in the car driving to the grocery store and she is telling me a long story about Ariel* (who else?!) and she burps and keeps right on going.

"Cora," I say, "Was that a burp?"
"Oh no," she replies - and if you know Cora you know that she is twisting her hand back and forth at the wrist and cocking her head to the side. "No," she says, "That was just my pink gas."

Which, as we all know, needs no excuse.

*When does the Ariel phase end? Sometimes she is Ariel, sometimes she talks to her Ariel doll (conversations that go something like this: "Hi Ariel. I know, Ariel, I know! Are you a dolly Ariel? Look at me, Ariel, now listen. You have a fishy tail, Ariel!"). When she is Ariel, Chris is Ariel-Daddy, who is usually angry and has no official song. Once in a while I am Ariel-Mommy, but of course there is no Ariel-Mommy in the movie. Do you see where this is going? Yes, that's right, I am Ursula. The sea witch. The octopus-bottomed cabaret singer with evil eels for friends - evil eels that Cora-Ariel tells me are named Poopie and PeePee. I kind of miss the days when she was just Olivia the pig. Now who's the poor unfortunate soul?

Friday, October 31, 2008

I love my mother even though she hounded me to post these pictures asap.

Little Red Riding Hood getting ready to go to the party at daycare today.
Posing with her friend Ariel, who came trick-or-treating with us...riding in the pumpkin.
The pumpkins Chris and I carved last night. Guess which one is mine and which is his!
Last Sunday, when we went to get our pumpkins...tough choices!
Earlier this week. Cora has been wearing the cape pretty steadily ever since I showed it to her two weeks ago. And we've been reading just about every Little Red book we could get at the library. She knows the story. When we go to a friend's costume party tomorrow night, I will be Granny and Chris will be the woodsman.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

No no NaNoWriMo, not this year

Well, yeah, I thought about it. I got a little fired up. And then I looked around at reality. I just don't see how the household could function with me spending all my spare time trying to pound out 50,000 words worth of novel. I wish it could, but I don't see it happening.

Alternatives: January could be my own personal NaNoWriMo, as I wasn't given a J-term assignment this year (don't even get me started.).
November could be the month I get my new poetry manuscript in working order (see above.)

But, jeez louise people, I probably won't even get all my pumpkins carved in time for Halloween, let alone a major creative project.

Friday, October 24, 2008

You can tell a toddler, but not much

To: Cora
Re: This morning. And last night. And, probably, tonight.

Dear Cora,
I thought it would be helpful for me to pull together a few helpful hints so that we might avoid the kind of hell we suffered this morning.

1. I cannot put a band-aid on your toe if you will not let me touch your toe. No amount of crying will change this fact.

2. You do not yet have the manual dexterity to get a band-aid on your own toe. No amount of crying will change this fact, only time.

3. Once three band-aids have been ruined in a twelve hour period, we are pretty much done with band-aids for toes whose true problem is that they have not been trimmed for weeks and are now starting to break off in jagged peaks. No amount of crying will change this.

4. Even Mommies have to go to the bathroom sometimes. No amount of crying will change this fact. However, screaming flailing outside the bathroom door will certainly encourage her to hold it for fifteen more minutes. Note that this will not improve her mood.

5. Telling your daddy, "No you color Ariel" sounds to him like he SHOULD color Ariel. While no amount of crying will change this fact, a universal translator might help.

6. You cannot help stir the scrambled eggs, nor may you touch the hot toaster. No amount of crying will change this, but check again in a couple years.

7. If you put a piece of scrambled egg on your buttered toast and then hold the toast vertically, yes, it will fall off. Every time. No amount of crying will change this fact.

8. You cannot go back to bed right after breakfast. From personal experience Mommy can tell you that no amount of crying can change this. Vomiting, however, can be very persuasive. But I'm not about to tell you that!

9. You cannot wear Crocs to school. No amount of crying will change this because it is the school's rule, not Mommy's.

I hope you have found this as helpful as I have. I am now going to enjoy the remaining 2.5 hours of my "fall break" that are mine to spend as I choose.

Your Mommy

Saturday, October 18, 2008

October 2008: Part 1

Cora and her pigs - believe it or not, it turns out that one is the baby and one is the mommy!
Cora takes her coloring very seriously these days.
And, she still likes sitting in small boxes. What this means, I can't imagine.
Daddy is still her favorite photography subject...
But an assortment of toys spilled across the floor runs a close second. (I am sparing you the close ups of the back of Baby Tidoo's head, the scary perspective shots of Elmo's gaping maw, and many many thumb-obscured photos.)
She is very concerned that Tidoo be smiling in the pictures, too.
Cora and her friend Eva, ready to take on the entire apple orchard.
This horse swing tried to throw her many times, but she managed to keep a death-grip on that rope and stay on. Is bronco busting in her future? (I hope not.)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Cora's latest passion

Tonight we did a little YouTube watching. It started out with a link a friend posted about tinikling, and then to other kinds of dance. I knew that stepping would appeal to Cora, and after watching this video, she pulled on her new boots (very sweet with the dinosaur pjs) and proceeded to step up a storm, complete with clapping, body slapping, and hitting the floor. I really, really wish we had a video camera.

She also enjoyed the African drumming/dancing video we found, the weekly clip from Anaheim Ballet, the Zap Mama video, and watching Daddy dance to "YYZ" and the animated drummer. (I believe that as she watched him she called out, "Daddy, you dance like a pinkie!" While I do not know precisely what she means, I have no doubt that she is correct.)

But, the most requested video of the night was the Iona College Step Team. She plans to watch it again first thing in the morning.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

What is more fun...

than listening to your husband sing Ariel the Mermaid's "Ahh ahh ahh' song in the bathroom while your toddler brushes her teeth?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Magazines, another sign of the season

The other day I picked up the latest issue of Brain, Child - my favorite magazine for mothers - and as usual it was packed with articles I was interested in reading, especially the one on "eco-parenting". So the other night, while Cora colored and watched her PBS shows, I sat on the couch reading my magazine. (Oh the bliss of having reached a stage where she can do something and I can do something, and they can be two different things!)

Of course, it wasn't long before she was climbing into my lap, wanting to see what I was reading. There aren't a lot of flashy pictures in Brain, Child, but we looked at some and talked about how there were a lot of words on the pages, and eventually she went back to coloring and Super Why.

Then, last night after dinner, while we were all still sitting at the table, she reached over to the pile of mail beside her placemat and said, matter-of-factly, "I'm going to read my magazine now." She'd pulled out a Hanna Andersson catalog (such beautiful clothes! such out of reach prices!), opened it up, and began poring over every page. And on every page she did the same thing. She would point to each clothing item in turn and say, "That's my pink shirt. That's my blue shirt. That's my black shirt." And so on.

One of the things this reminded me of was my own childhood fascination with the big JCPenney catalogs we used to get. I can remember going through the old ones and cutting out "my clothes" and toys. My stepgrandmother was a travel agent and she would send me brochures about cruises - I loved to pretend I was going on a cruise, and pick out which cabin I would be in, and then all the clothes I would take with me. What is so very odd about this, is that while I like having clothes that fit me and that I find comfortable, I really don't think of myself as being obsessed with clothes. But, perhaps I am a tiny bit obsessed with clothing options.

And I know I am obsessed with reading - about anything. One difficult thing this fall has been having very little time to read, and having to give books back to the library half-read or barely started, only to put them on my request list again and hope I remember where I was. I just had to do this today with Mary Roach's Bonk. I tried to skim a few chapters at lunch today - a completely dangerous and reckless activity as one should never laugh so hard that hot feta nearly comes out one's nose. I think I'll have about another three months to wait to get it again. Maybe by then there will be time to settle in with a book. Until then, though, I have been reading a lot of magazines and a lot of craft books. And maybe Cora is noticing this, too, and wanting to get in on whatever kind of seasonal reading plan her mama is following.

When she finished with the catalog, she set it aside with a sigh, looked around and asked, "Where's my other magazine?"

Sunday, October 5, 2008


Cora ate her first fortune cookie Thursday night. She thought it was pretty cool that there was a secret message inside the cookie. What did it say?

"You are admired from afar."

That's one smart cookie.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

With dreams come responsibilities...or not.

When I dream, I either have dreams with very clear messages ("I was sitting by the pool with my mom and we had just made cookies, and then margaritas appeared!") or they are so dense with surreal and mysterious symbols that they will never make sense ("I was sitting by the pool with my mom and we had just made cookies, and then margaritas appeared!"). I think this may be genetic after all.

This morning, Cora says to me, in that casual way you would use to start a conversation, "I had a dream last night."

"Really? What was your dream?"

Shrug. "Peas and carrots."

"Peas and carrots?"

"Yeah." And then she gets that little intense change of expression, like you do when you're really going to get into the meaning of something and she says, "But I no like peas! Just carrots."

"You like carrots?" As far as I've been able to tell, Cora likes neither peas not carrots.

But, she was already tired of talking about her dream, so she just gave me a look that said we were done with the topic of peas and carrots.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Making makes me feel better

It's been a long week. The death of our friend overshadowed it all and brought with it not only grief, but also the kinds of things you think about when someone born the same year as you passes away. That old anxiety of mortality. Cora has been a fabulous distraction from these thoughts, but also a potent reminder of joy. As I've been dragging myself through this week, she's kept me from sinking, both because I just can't, and also because she can make me laugh in unexpected ways.

Like today, when we were leaving DQ, after an ice cream cone treat, and she was telling me a very long and involved story about herself and me and my mommy and when she's a mommy and grandmas. When she finished, I said, "Wow, that sounds pretty complex, Cora." She answered, "No, that's not complex, Mommy, you silly lady!" I had to pull back into my parking space, I was laughing so hard. Which made her laugh, of course.

Another thing that makes me feel better is making things. So, last weekend it was mozzarella cheese, which was then used in this eggplant parm:

And then I worked like crazy to finish this little poncho for Cora. Now I can't decide if I should save it for Christmas (my original plan) or give it to her this fall (because I can't wait to see it on her). I just used yarn I had on hand and adapted a pattern I found - estimated size stuff, added another point, made up a ruffle, etc. I really like the way it turned out!

It also makes me happy to get packages from my own Momma! This week brought photos, a fancy candy bar, a bottle of orange-chili sauce, collected comic strips from the weekly paper, assorted other things to read, and a doll blanket and pillow for Cora. I cut down a diaper box for a bed.

Tidoo went to bed and stayed there for the next three days! Cora would pick up the whole bed to rock her. Tonight she took her out of the bed to hold her and rock her and sing her songs. She sang this awesome medley of "Amazing Grace," "Row, row, row your boat," and the alphabet song. Sweet.

Lately Cora has really increased her verbal expressions, which I wouldn't have thought was possible. If she was a chatterbox before, I don't know what you call her now. She is so into pretending and acting out WonderPets episodes with her finger puppets, and she sings all these songs that she learns at school. My favorite is the "great white shark" song - hand motions! - where the shark eats the fishies and the octopus and who knows what else. And then there is one about Mr Alligator eating the monkeys in the trees. (A lot of eating in Cora's favorite songs and books these days.). But here is something I think is a real milestone. Last weekend at a bookstore we bought Cora this little dog:

She named it Chuchiya. It's the first thing she's named all on her own. I love that.

Monday, September 22, 2008

In memory of a friend

For a few days now I've been struggling with what to say about how on Friday evening we lost a dear friend to her long drawn-out argument with cancer. We didn't find out until Saturday, and when we heard we changed our evening plans to be family time and we went out to dinner and toasted our friend's life.

Like my husband, Denise was a composer; they were in the same graduate program. Denise later moved out to NYC for her doctorate degree, got a teaching job, continued to compose, and came home to MN a couple times a year. We'd see her those times, and kept in touch by phone and email in between times.

She was last here in August - just three or four weeks ago - and we had dinner together. She and Chris talked about their latest projects. We discussed class plans and dealing with students and the general challenges of a creative life in the midst of a working life. It was a good visit. Cora loved Denise, and practiced saying her name, and showed her some of her favorite books and toys. Denise seemed frailer than she had other visits - she always maintained an upbeat attitude, she taught through all her surgeries, chemo, radiation, and diagnoses - even though this was the first time I felt like I really saw the physical toll cancer had taken on her, I never expected she would pass away so soon. And it sounds, from friends who talked to her last week, that she really didn't expect it either.

I find a lot of the conventional language about cancer unsatisfactory. Really what I want to say is that a strong, beautiful, talented woman, someone I cared about, died last week. I miss her. I wish it could have been differently for her - I wish her path had been easier.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Summer makes a brief reappearance

I'm really more of a fall person. When I lived in California, I was more of a winter person, but living somewhere that really has *winter* cured me of that. The last two years I've made more of a peace with summer than in previous year, but still...I like a chill in the air. I like piling on the quilts. I like being comfortable wearing jeans and long sleeves.

We had about two weeks of really beautiful fall weather. Now it is warm again, but that kind of awkward warm weather, where the mornings are really still pretty cool, but you know it is going to get up to 80 in the afternoon, so what are you supposed to wear? And what on earth does the baby wear ("No I not baby! I little girl!")? At least there is one easy decision:

Another still life photo; I call it "Paneer: In the beginning" :

Because, really, when you are teaching three classes and going to campus every day and trying to make it to your gym three times a week and going through job searches and worrying about the health of family members and also hoping that maybe you can one day get enough freaking sleep...you want to start a curry and cheese making odyssey, right? Oh, and, by the way, why don't you knit a poncho while you're at it.

But really you're here for the girl, aren't you? The one who actually can't decide if she is a big girl, a little girl, or a baby, and often cycles through all three in a manner of hours. She is gaining language at an amazing pace these days, and I especially love to hear her picking up colloquialisms. The latest is, "I got an idea!" As in this exchange:

Me: No more stories, Cora, time for songs.
Cora: Wait! I got an idea!
Me: What's your idea?
Cora: We read more stories!

Hey - I got an idea - let's make the pots and pans cupboard (you know, the one Grandma Jan told her was her cupboard...thanks, Grandma Jan!) her room so that she will stay so small and so cute and so full of enthusiasm for a very long time.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Medical News for Mommies Everywhere

"Kisses no make it better. Band-Aids make it better. My finger need BAND-AID!! No kiss it!!"

(Three hours later: "My finger better. I frow-way Band-Aid now.")

Monday, September 8, 2008

Did I really just say that?

Today in class I made the mistake that all English teachers dread. The class had been in groups, each group discussing a different short story. We'd heard from two already. Then it happened.

"Now let's hear from the group that discussed 'A Hard Man is Good to Find'."

And in the stunned silence that followed I heard Flannery O'Connor spin in her grave.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Fall forecast: Growth spurt

For most of August, Cora has lived on a diet of, say, three blueberries and a bite of oatmeal for breakfast. A cheese stick or two for lunch. And more of the same for dinner. I hold to what her doctor said - that we should look more for meals to be balanced across the span of a month rather than a day - but still, I do think she should be eating MORE.

For a while in August I put her back on whole milk - around the time she would clutch her torso with delight and shout, "My ribs! I feel my ribs!" Thanks, baby.

But, something is up. Hint number one: She fell asleep in the car on the way home from daycare on Tuesday (unheard of!) and has been sleeping more in general. Hint number two would be what she ate today:

7 multigrain & apple pancakes
a fruit-filled cereal bar
graham crackers
half a banana
five dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets
two cookies
half a quesadilla with guacamole
and lots and lots of milk, some oj and some apple juice

But, I think the real indicator of something big afoot is that last night before dinner, I made a little appetizer out of some of our farmers market booty. She ate almost all the "snacks" - Chris and I only got a couple bites. What was this marvelous pre-dinner snack? (I hope you are reading this sitting down. That means you, Momma.)


I don't know which is less likely: that I would buy it, or that she would love it. Clearly, the thin and crispy layer of cornmeal has fooled her into thinking it could not possibly be a vegetable. Still, clearly green food. And, yes, we're making it again soon.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

(No, I have nothing better to do tonight)

OK - I'm going to try out the "Following" feature on Blogger and see what happens. If it is still a zero in a week, I will remove the gadget, drink mucho vodka, and cry myself to sleep.

It's in your hands, people.

Do the Monster Pants Dance! (a tutorial by Cora)

Delicious, easy, crazy...and a big freaking list

Yesterday, the day before classes started, my last full day home by myself, I decided to do something fun. I had just got from the library a fabulous cookbook, 660 Curries, and when we were in Madison, we were given a beautiful, huge cabbage. What are the chances? I thought. But, I looked, and I found a curry that used cabbage. But the recipe also would require the making of a toasted & ground spice blend and also...cheese.

Did you say cheese? Homemade cheese? Count me in!

So, I made paneer, which was easy and fun and so wild that I was wishing Chris and Cora were there to see what happens when you stir a little vinegar into a giant pot of boiling milk. INSTANT CURDS AND WHEY! And then, the transformation to actual cheese. When I brought Cora home from daycare I had her try the cheese. She loved it. She tried it several times. Then she brought her Elmo in to try the cheese.

The spice blend was also easy (super easy - by chance it was the easiest one with the least ingredients in the whole book). And the curry itself came together in about 20 minutes and was undoubtedly the best way to eat cabbage ever. We also had basmati rice and some beef kabobs from the store (our back-up in case the curry was not amazing and delicious). All in all a tremendously satisfying day. And the rest of the cookbook looks great too - there are lots of things we would like to try to make.

Then I found, on a food & cooking blog, The Omnivore's Hundred. Here is what it is:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.

2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.

3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating. (I can't cross out, so I'll just label those NO)

4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at http://www.verygoodtaste.co.uk/ linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison

2. Nettle tea

3. Huevos rancheros

4. Steak tartare

5. Crocodile

6. Black pudding NO!

7. Cheese fondue

8. Carp

9. Borscht

10. Baba ghanoush

11. Calamari

12. Pho

13. PB&J sandwich

14. Aloo gobi

15. Hot dog from a street cart

16. Epoisses

17. Black truffle

18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes

19. Steamed pork buns

20. Pistachio ice cream

21. Heirloom tomatoes

22. Fresh wild berries

23. Foie gras - at this point, NO

24. Rice and beans

25. Brawn, or head cheese - EXTREMELY DOUBTFUL

26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper - NO...OUCH!

27. Dulce de leche

28. Oysters - NO

29. Baklava

30. Bagna cauda

31. Wasabi peas

32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl

33. Salted lassi

34. Sauerkraut

35. Root beer float

36. Cognac with a fat cigar - NO TO THE CIGAR

37. Clotted cream tea

38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O

39. Gumbo

40. Oxtail

41. Curried goat

42. Whole insects

43. Phaal

44. Goat’s milk

45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more

46. Fugu - NO

47. Chicken tikka masala

48. Eel

49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut

50. Sea urchin

51. Prickly pear

52. Umeboshi

53. Abalone

54. Paneer

55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal

56. Spaetzle

57. Dirty gin martini

58. Beer above 8% ABV

59. Poutine

60. Carob chips

61. S’mores

62. Sweetbreads - NO NO NO

63. Kaolin

64. Currywurst

65. Durian

66. Frogs’ legs

67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake

68. Haggis - DOUBTFUL

69. Fried plantain

70. Chitterlings, or andouillette - DOUBTFUL

71. Gazpacho

72. Caviar and blini

73. Louche absinthe

74. Gjetost, or brunost

75. Roadkill

76. Baijiu

77. Hostess Fruit Pie

78. Snail

79. Lapsang souchong

80. Bellini

81. Tom yum

82. Eggs Benedict

83. Pocky

84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.

85. Kobe beef


87. Goulash

88. Flowers


90. Criollo chocolate

91. Spam

92. Soft shell crab

93. Rose harissa

94. Catfish

95. Mole poblano

96. Bagel and lox

97. Lobster Thermidor

98. Polenta

99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee

100. Snake

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Identity Quakes

I read recently another blogger talking about the shift in identity that took place for her when she became a mother, how unprepared for that she felt. Reading her thoughts led me to reflect on ways I experienced this when I became a mother. There was definitely some new terrain to explore in terms of how I identified myself, what had shifted in terms of my interests, priorities, and values, and how I felt about all that. I don't want to downplay these things.

But, when I think about sudden, massive, disorienting identity shifts that I've experienced, there are two events that spring to my mind: moving to Minnesota, and being laid off. Moving to Minnesota for grad school really shook my foundations in a way I had no expectation of in my conscious mind. Clearly my unconscious was plenty aware because as I headed out of the beloved state of my birth, my dad driving me, my (formerly his) truck, and a paltry load of possessions, I bawled like a baby. A baby who somehow knew she was entering a colder world than she was used to.

It took about five years to settle into this new place. Now, sixteen years later (gulp), there are so many things I love about the Twin Cities, and I've made many friends (though most are transplants, too), and I get the weather now - here on the last day of August I am already wondering when the first snow will fall and pretty much looking forward to it. But, when it's time to write a biographical note for a competition or an artist's statement, or a program...the first thing I say is that I was born in California. When we fly back to visit, I cry when I see palm trees. On many visits I have not been able to face the ocean, because it just is too heartbreaking.

I was also surprised by the shifts that being laid off triggered. When you are laid off, if you want to collect unemployment, you have to attend a session at the unemployment office on dealing with being laid off. One of the things they tell you is that being laid off launches an emotional shitstorm surpassed only by the death of a child. I thought this wouldn't be true for me, given that I didn't even LIKE the job I was laid off from - the company was entirely dysfunctional as were many of the people I worked with. Frankly, I think the company made me dysfunctional as well - compartamentalized, bitter, angry, cynical...and those were the good days.

But, it was still where I spent the vast majority of my waking life. It provided me with the biggest salary I have ever made. I had very enviable benefits. I saw a good friend every week day. I had the kind of job title that people recognize and find respectable. I still took pride in my work and in the accomplishments of my department. I still tried to be the best manager I could be in the conditions provided. I had a lot of myself wrapped up in the work I did, and to have it made so clear that someone else found all of this completely disposable was very, very hard to take. I was amazed and appalled both at how hard it was to take, and for how long the shadow of this fell across my life. I would say that it took at least a year for that shadow to dissipate. I'm not sure it has completely vanished yet, and it happened six years ago.

So, when motherhood came along, a state I had avoided so well for so long, and then decided to pursue, and then found within my grasp so quickly and easily, I was braced for another big identity quake. And I found it just didn't happen that way. There were - and are, still - moments where I do feel a kind of disorientation, but it doesn't feel like the same kind of awful drowning, of being totally unmoored from myself. Maybe because I expected it? Maybe because I tried to meet it head on? Of the three events, motherhood was perhaps the one I entered into most wholeheartedly, but I know many women who would say the same, and who felt the identity quake more strongly.

Identity can be tricky ground - it can look and feel solid, until that faultline deep underground twinges. And then when the shaking stops, it looks solid again, and we can feel betrayed, tricked. When the faultlines are active, when the plates are shifting, there's havoc. Sometimes the shaking stops and everything looks different. Sometimes the aftershocks are more devastating than the initial quake. Every once in a while it turns out to be such a little thing that it was almost enjoyable, a gentle rolling just to keep us awake. Because, as much as we try to remember, in quake country, that our solid ground can shift, in the day to day we forget. We have to, in many respects, in order to keep going, even when we really know better.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Two exciting weekends

We went to Madison last weekend, where we saw this guy at the Farmer's Market. Also - Cora got to play with some cousins! This is so exciting to me because my own cousins were my favorite playmates when I was growing up, and they always seemed extra important since they were both my friends and my relatives. Of course, when I was little most of my cousins lived two hours away or less. I really hope that as Cora gets older she gets to have these kinds of relationships with her cousins, but I don't know - we're all spread so far around, from Minnesota to Colorado to Georgia to California to Germany. Travel is tough for us - financially and emotionally. Four hours is probably our top driving distance at this point, without serious abuse of the portable DVD player.

And then, this morning, we had our annual State Fair excursion. I'd been talking it up with Cora about the animals we would see, and she was most interested in seeing the pigs. Excuse me, the piggies! Funny, since last year it was a pig that scared the bejesus out of her and made her cry. But, this year, the piggies were all that and a bag of chips. She even got to pet a member of the Best Litter. And she was very proud of her pig ears crown.

Of course, we'd started with the cows, who turned out to be a little bigger than she expected, and a little scary. After pigs, she wanted to see horses. But, the sheep and goats come first. We saw several lambs getting shorn (meat lamb judging day), and a nice man gave Cora a piece of wool to feel. Goats were okay by Cora, but I didn't get to pet too many.

Then, finally, on to the horses. Who were way bigger than expected. When one swung her huge, gorgeous head down towards Cora, who was in her stroller, Cora almost pushed her way out the back of the stroller, shrieking “Scary, scary!” I think she now officially gets the difference between scary and exciting. But me, I was happy to pet that friendly horse.

We hit the poultry barn next, which includes rabbits, in addition to all the crazy hens, roosters, ducks, pigeons, and turkeys. Cora loved this part. When we tried to leave in search of fresh air (man, those chickens stink!), she demanded more. More what? More turkeys! More big bunnies! OK.

Along the way we also had corn dogs and ice cream. Whew. Oh – and before we left we went to the Miracle of Birth Center and saw some lambs that were about six hours old and some piglets very fresh from the sow – still walking around with umbilical cords. So, tonight, Cora and I looked through her newborn pictures, too. One of her favorite things at the fair was seeing baby animals drinking their mama's milk, so we found pictures of that, too. She was rightfully proud of being like a baby piggie.