Monday, December 31, 2007

Knitting on New Years


A very dear friend of mine just came to town for a quick visit. We share a love of funky earrings, art projects, gourmet grocery stores and aversion to math. She is a fearless and avid knitter, and I aspire to be like her. You might wonder how a person can be a fearless knitter. She fearlessly attacks ambitious projects with expensive materials, invests large amounts of time, becomes emotionally attached, is not afraid to ask for help when she needs it, and then is able to admit mistakes, and completely unravel the project and start again if necessary. She completely immerses herself in the process and doesn’t worry so much about the results. I have a lot to learn, and luckily she is an excellent teacher.

My friend was helping me to accept the fact that a project, a whole sweater, I had worked on for quite some time needed to be un-knit. Yes, completely unraveled. No way to save it. In fact, she told me this sweater might fit Hagrid but certainly not anyone in my family. I mourned the loss for a while and she counseled me about getting “back on the horse” and working on a project I could be more successful at. Like a small washcloth.

Watching all this drama, my seven year old hung around fondling all the yarn. He has always been tactile and loves really soft fabric. Soon he asked, “Can I try?” My friend didn’t even blink, saying “Sure!” and sitting right down with him. She is a teacher and has taught lots of kids to knit, and she is not his mother, so she was patient and encouraging and soon had him happily knitting away. On my washcloth.

I’m sure she doesn’t realize how she got the ball rolling. Now all three boys want to knit. So they all put on their Heelys (shoes with wheels on them) and we headed to the craft store. We went to the craft store because I couldn’t take them to the beautiful yarn store, with infinite and very expensive choices. Too overwhelming for them and me. And probably for the nice ladies that work there too.

At the door to the craft store, I threaten the boys not to roll around on their shoes or they will loose them for a day. We go in search of the yarn isle. It takes about 15 minutes of fondling and caressing and discussing to pick out yarn. They automatically, magnetically, irresistibly head for the most expensive yarn the store stocks. My friend told me it’s important for the yarn to feel good, so we negotiate and settle on some choices. Then we pick out the needles, a different color and size for each boy. We get a few looks and smiles from other customers but the boys see nothing humorous or odd about getting knitting supplies; they are excited.

Once home, we roll the yarn into balls, which makes it easier to pull from as you knit. Then we got started. I sat with each boy and gave him about a three minute lesson. The lesson was really basic since I am a beginning knitter also. They started knitting away. I marveled at the sight for a moment and then spent the next three hours fielding questions, checking work, fixing dropped stitches, helping to unravel mistakes, and generally being the constant on-call knitting doctor. I couldn’t get a thing done. This was a problem as it’s New Year’s eve and we had nothing planned for dinner and no restaurants nearby were open. My husband surveyed the scene when he arrived home from work, perplexed and amused. He learned to knit as a boy also. Assessing the situation, he started cooking the only thing he knows how to cook: macaroni and cheese. Yes, we had macaroni and cheese, and tomato soup, for New Year’s eve dinner. And it was a quick dinner because everyone wanted to get back to knitting.

My youngest wondered aloud, who invented knitting? I looked in my knitting book and read to them that no one really knows who invented it, but that traditionally women produced the yarn, while men did the knitting. This did not seem odd to them, of course men did the knitting. Because it is really fun and cool.

This is perhaps one of the most bizarre New Year’s eves I have ever experienced. No entertaining, no champagne, no count-down, no resolutions, no elaborate goodbye to the year ending and a new one beginning.

Instead, one year is woven, knotted, knitted into another, a single strand of experience transformed into a more complex and amazing form.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Jesus Christ!

I am not afraid to admit that I am an Andrew Lloyd Webber fan. When I had the opportunity to buy tickets months and months ago to Jesus Christ Superstar coming to my area, I envisioned a great family experience of sharing my love of the music with my sons. I looked forward to the performance for a long time, and as it got closer, downloaded the music so the boys could listen to it before seeing the show.

Showtime! I eagerly led everyone to the third row center seats. Right up in front! The best place for kids to sit for a musical, I think, right where they are almost a part of the action.

Wrong.

Really wrong.

It was right when the noose lowers down from the ceiling and Judas is singing his guts out about his torment in betraying Jesus that I realize what a big mistake I made in bringing my boys (and my friend visiting from out of town, and another friend and her daughter who took the extra tickets we had at the last minute because my oldest son got sick and my husband had to stay home with him) to this show that I saw once before but obviously didn’t realize would be so, well, really so inappropriate for a seven and nine year old.

Don’t get me wrong, the music and most of the singing was fantastic.

But seeing an African American man, playing Judas, sticking his head into a noose on stage mere feet away from our third row seats was not good. Not good. I tried to block the eyes of my seven year old. It shouldn’t have been hard, as he was sitting on my lap and had been since the second song. He fought me off though, like he was watching something he knew he shouldn’t see but had to watch.

Things continued on very intensely to the ultimate scene. Yes, Jesus nailed to the cross. Yes, mere feet away, we bore witness to a 60 year old man, playing Jesus, nearly naked, nailed to a huge cross, moaning, groaning, gasping, panting, struggling, calling for his mother, and truly suffering for what seemed to be at least 15 minutes. It was taking him forever to die. I was gripping the arm of my friend to my right, and ridiculously we got the giggles. Suppressing laughter at the situation I had put us in, I was straining so hard to hold in my emotions when my friend to my left whispered into my ear, “Wow he must do yoga!” I managed to keep it together but had tears streaming down my face. My seven year old was absolutely transfixed by the scene, and my legs were going numb with the weight of him on my lap for two hours. I couldn’t even begin to explain to him what was going on, so I kept whispering into his ear, “Just concentrate on the music and the singing. Just listen to the music.” My nine year old was two seats away from me, I couldn’t talk to him at all.

My boys were way too young for the graphic, violent, dark and complex story line. What was I thinking? What if they ask me about Mary Magdalene? Was this really the best way to introduce them to the story of the life of Jesus? You can’t get a more different viewpoint from the gentle hippy man wearing a dress and petting a lamb other kids learn about in Sunday school. This Jesus was scary, even to me. Especially so close up. Oh no, I’ve scarred them for life.

Leaving our row, my nine year old asked if he could check out the guitar player he caught a glimpse of in the orchestra pit. Glad for the diversion, we looked at the musicians, keyboards, electric guitars, and computers that produced all the wonderful music for the show. Walking out into the chilly afternoon, I was contemplating all the questions that were going to be asked of me in the following days. I was pretty sure none of them would be about the music.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Just Go With It

My youngest son announced the other day, "I know Santa is really moms and dads. But I'm just going to go with it." I was saddened by the fact that my youngest child no longer believes in Santa, but impressed with his honest and matter-of-fact way of letting us know. His older brothers have never challenged the Santa Myth quite so directly. There have been comments about the impossibility of Santa's gift-giving journey around the world in one night, or how exactly he could fit down the chimney and what about houses that don't have chimneys? What about the kids who don't get any presents from Santa because they're Jewish? I have answered all these questions and more by saying something along the lines of "it's magical, isn't it?" I have tried my best not to directly lie. I have not come out and said there is no Santa either.

This makes it all rather difficult to have a conversation about preserving the beliefs of friends and especially younger cousins. I really don't want my sisters mad at me for destroying Santa at their houses. I'd rather leave that up their friends at school.

So while mourning the loss of innocence in my house, I was ever so slightly distracted and didn't notice that my youngest son has not only turned into a skeptic, he is now a snoop as well. Every second in which he is not being directly watched, he is rummaging around through closets and rifling through drawers. I am shocked. For years before this, I could leave an unwrapped gift laying around in almost plain sight and no one would notice it. This year, my youngest may have discovered every present before I've had a chance to wrap it. He might know exactly what he is getting, and he might know exactly what his brothers are getting. I don't know for sure though, because in addition to being a skeptic and a snoop, he is also a very smooth story-teller.

I believed in Santa until I was probably ten years old. I thought only Santa could possibly know how much I wanted my very own giant jar of sweet pickles (he delivered, even in the days before Costco) and another year how much I wanted that huge set of plastic Barbie shoes and purses in every color. I wasn't much of a snoop myself but I must admit that one year I did ever-so-carefully unwrap one of my presents enough to see what it was before I closed it all back up again. I don't remember what the gift was but I do remember feeling an odd mixture of pride in being so sneaky and getting away with it, and a disappointment that the surprise was spoiled.

Some of my friends tell me that the youngest child tends to be the one who questions the status quo. This is a desirable trait in an adult, but NOT in a seven year old who is out of school, hyped up on See's Candies and beside himself with excitement a couple days before Christmas. Today I had to take him to my husband's office for an hour or two, to get him out of the house so I could wrap and/or hide things. And so I could hear myself think.

Next year I may be forced to take the advice of another friend (older and wiser), who told me that he arranges to drop off all gifts for his three children at a friend's house. He provides all the supplies and the friend wraps everything and holds on to the gifts until they are ready to put them under the tree. This was a revolutionary idea to me, something I just never would have come up with myself. Any volunteers?

Friday, December 7, 2007

Santa's What??

You know you live in a house with boys when . . .

the phrase "Santa and his sack" meets with such laughter.

I never thought of Santa as an anatomically correct man before. Kinda grosses me out.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Birthday Suit

My oldest son's eleventh birthday is coming up very soon.

He is a non-materialistic person, not interested in acquiring possessions or even in having any money to his name.

When I asked him recently what he wants for his birthday, he was surprisingly specific.

He wants a suit.

From Dad. Not from Mom.

Because it is Dad's department.

I'm not sure how to interpret this, but I have to admit it made me sad. He's growing up.

I don't know where he will be wearing his suit. Out to breakfast on Saturday morning? To a meeting with his teacher about the next book report? To baseball try-outs?

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Bad Dinner Party Behavior

Recently we went to a dinner party. Our whole family was invited, which doesn't happen too often when you have three kids. The hosts have a son the same age as one of mine. There were two other families there as well.

With nine kids, the hostess wisely hired a neighbor she knows well to watch over the kids, help serve them dinner and make sure they didn't get out of control. The kids had their own table, ate dinner early, and then went to the detached rec room to play the Wii and hang out while the adults had a lovely dinner at the dining room table.

Conversation centered around the sub-prime mortgage collapse as each couple had some connection or was affected in some way by it. Despite terms like "negative amortization" and "inflation" flying around, it was a good conversation, sometimes veering off to other topics such as schools and Van Halen concerts. Soon after the adults sat down to eat, the oldest of the children present, a 13 year old girl, came in and whispered to her mother, then sat nearby playing her hand-held video game. The mother mentioned to no one in particular that there was some bad behavior going on among the kids. I thought she was referring to her own child, or one of the boys I didn't know, but of course she wasn't talking about any of my kids.

She got up to check on the kids, came back, sat down, filled up her wine glass again. Wait, did I miss something? Why does this woman look like she wants to slap me?

She leaned forward in a sort of fake, mean-spirited conspiratorial way and said, "I want to tell you that your seven year old was beating up my daughter and he is really not a nice kid. I'm telling you this because if my son did anything like this, I would want to know about it. Is this the way he usually acts?"

So many reactions and thoughts were rushing through my head that I just sat there and stared at her. What do you do when someone insults your child in the middle of polite dinner conversation? I mean, besides calling them a bitch? I really like the friends who hosted the party, and I didn't want to ruin the dinner. I'm not really a confrontational person. So, wondering what my second grade son could have possibly done to this seventh grader, I told the woman that I would find out the what was going on from all my boys. But I would do it later. And I just sat there, turned to another guest at the table, and joined another conversation.

A few minutes later I caught my husband's eye. He looked at me and immediately said, "What's wrong?" I had that look that spouses instantly recognize in each other, the "I'm really really pissed off" look. He started to panic thinking he did something when I motioned to the woman next to him. He rolled his eyes, letting me know he understood my feeling but would get the story later.

As soon as we were in the car, I instituted an absolute dictatorship. I announced I would hear what went on from the seven year old with no interruptions or comments from anyone, then the brothers would have their turns. I was seething mad but knew I didn't have the whole story.

It turns out that the seventh grader refused to let the second grader have a turn with the Wii. And she was picking on him, telling him girls were better than boys, he was a bad person (which was particularly hurtful to him) and telling him to shut up. He admitted his anger got the best of him but he did not hit her, he instead was hitting the back of her chair. One brother backed up his story and the other said it was such a minor thing that he didn't even notice anything was going on. The babysitter didn't notice anything amiss either. When the mother came out to check on the kids she was particularly rude to the seven year old. All the kids noticed that.

How to explain all this to a second grader? My god I couldn't even explain it to myself.

My husband came to the rescue. Utterly uninformed of the situation until we got in the car, he summed it all up for the boys by telling them that 13 year old girls are creatures to be wary of, they can unpredictable and not very nice. Be careful and steer clear of them.

I guess that goes for their mothers too.

I'm not sure it was the best explanation. But I had to agree with it, I was a 13 year old girl myself once.

Thank god I have boys.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Girls Just Wanna Have Lunch

One of the perks of being a mom who doesn't go to an office every day is being able to have a party during the week in the middle of the day. Sometimes when the kids are at school and the husband is at work, we just wanna have fun!

I hosted a lunch-time party this week for a new friend and neighbor that recently moved from Connecticut. The theme of the party was Stone Soup. You may remember reading this fable or the classic children's picture book Stone Soup.


I wanted my new friend to get acquainted with a bunch of moms from the school our children attend and from the neighborhood. I sent out an evite to about 25 friends and asked everyone to bring a handful of a vegetable, bean or pasta to go into the soup. The new neighbor was to bring the stone. And just as I thought she would, she brought a stone from Connecticut. That stone made some of the best vegetable soup I've ever tasted. Really! It was a fun, easy, casual party where everyone contributed but still had lots of time to chat and make new friends.


Here's what I did to put together Stone Soup for 20 people.

Ingredients:
A bunch of friends who each bring a handful of a fresh vegetable
A stone (scrubbed clean, about the size of an egg)
A very large stock pot
5 boxes of vegetable stock from Trader Joe's
2 onions, 1 shallot, 3 cloves of garlic chopped
1 small can tomato paste
Sea salt or kosher salt
Fresh rosemary, chopped
Crusty sourdough bread and good butter (I used Irish butter)
Bowls and spoons from a party rental place (if you don't have 20 bowls and/or you don't want to wash dishes)
Shredded parmesan, soup crackers, and sour cream for topping the soup
Wine (optional)
Hot mulled cider simmering on the stove
Coffee (rent the cups for hot drinks too)
Assorted cookies from a local bakery

About 20 minutes before the party started, I sautéed the onion, shallot and garlic in a little olive oil. I then added the vegetable broth, the stone, and the tomato paste and let it come to a simmer. As guests arrived, they added their item to the soup. Some things that cook very quickly, like snap peas and green beans, we added a little later. The soup simmered until we were ready to eat, about 45 minutes. I then added the fresh rosemary and salt to taste. Everyone served themselves from the stove, added toppings, and sat down to eat!

It's a little nerve-racking to leave the soup ingredients up to chance, but each person adds something to the pot and the end result is much more than the sum of the parts. Bonus: I served the leftover soup to my family for dinner that night and they all loved it. The boys wanted to know who brought each vegetable.

I must admit I did not come up with this idea all on my own. I am an assistant teacher at a preschool where we make Stone Soup in our class every year. Each child brings a vegetable to add, and the soup always tastes delicious. When we made it this year, I was inspired to see if I could turn it into a party. And just like the children learn in preschool, sometimes its really interesting to see what we can do when we all contribute something small.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that you can even throw this party if you have a child home sick from school. My oldest wasn't feeling well, but he was perfectly content to hang out in his room and nap and play Club Penguin for the afternoon.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving

My mom makes a traditional oyster stuffing on Thanksgiving. But we've never seen an oyster this big before.

A highlight for my two older boys was playing football on the beach with their uncles.
The uncles were really into it too.
My oldest got to try out his uncle's saxophone. Big time cool!
One turkey headed for the deep fryer. The other turkey spent the afternoon on the BBQ
Is that a shoe print on the chocolate torte?

The highlight for each of my kids was spending lots of time playing and goofing off with their cousins!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Poem

A year ago, a good friend gave me a recording of Billy Collins reading his poetry. I hesitate to say that when I received this CD, I did not know who he was. Didn't know he was poet laureate either.

My kids and I are Billy Collins fans now. We listen to him in the car when I want a change from bickering or Top Ten. Probably one of my favorite poems on this CD is The Lanyard. It is a poem that anyone who is a mother, or a son, can appreciate.

Try reading it out loud. Really, no one is watching.



The Lanyard

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

- Billy Collins

If you'd like to hear Billy's voice, and it is a wonderful voice to listen to, go to his website at www.bestcigarette.us/. There is a whole album of poems available for free download. These ones are new to me, I'm going to listen to them on my earphones when my kids get on my nerves being out of school for Thanksgiving break. It gives me a reason to look forward to the inevitable fighting.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Comedy Traffic School

I spent my Saturday at traffic school. It was advertised as Comedy Traffic School. The instructor was not the comedienne, the students were.

We went around the room sharing how we got our tickets. As we went, I got more and more nervous because mine was so stupid and boring compared to the others (see my Sept. 6th 2007 entry for how I got this ticket).

There was the straight-haired college student, doing crosswords, reading Harry Potter, drinking a can of guava juice, and telling us how she got a ticket because she was speeding because she was listening to a really bad song and she also wore her seatbelt under her arm.

There was Mr. Proud Prius Driver who got a ticket for speeding even though he thought cops never gave tickets to Prius drivers.

There was the blond 50 year old woman with a big smile who was enjoying life and listening to a good song, in her daughter's car, cruising down Highway 5 doing about 100 mph. When she was pulled over by, in her words, a really HOT cop, she whipped out a picture of her brother in his police uniform and asked if that would help her. I guess it did and she was written up for a slower speed and qualified for traffic school.

There was the local very successful real estate agent, a man whose name I instantly recognized.

There was the 16 year old boy who just got his license and got a ticket for speeding but insisted he didn't deserve the ticket, even though he was speeding.

There was Vladamir, a Russian in dark glasses, dark slacks and dark turtleneck, with an accent so thick, we couldn't understand what his ticket was for. The instructor told us all that he parked and re-parked his shiny black car in the parking lot three times before the class started, so stay away from it. Vladamir's cell phone went off five times during the class, each time blaring Russian ballet music that the instructor told him to get rid of.

There was Chris, who was very drowsy and trying to get some shut-eye. When it came his time to share, he mumbled something about getting a ticket on his motorcycle. He looked hung over in a bad way. Then I thought maybe he's stoned. No, I know he's stoned.

Then, my favorite fellow student Monty Montgomery introduced himself. He's about twenty and just recently got his license. He rode his bike to traffic school though. He is very animated, friendly, and an excellent story-teller, even using sound effects. He makes bikes, crazy bikes, 100% from parts he finds in the landfill. He got his ticket because he was driving extremely recklessly and ran two cars off the road. One of them was a cop. Then it turned out the cop was an acquaintance from high school, so got off with traffic school instead of jail.

Let's see, what did I learn at traffic school?

Don't eat tacos while driving. They are the number one kind of food eaten by people when they get in an accident.

I learned that in the absence of any other tools, you can take an injured deer out of it's misery with a skateboard (this from Monty of course).

I learned that there is actually a law against transporting anyone in your trunk.

But the best thing I got out of traffic school was this video I've included below. Read this before you watch it:
There are two teams, the white and the black shirts. Each team has three people. Watch carefully and count how many passes the WHITE team makes. Do it now. Don't read the directions below until after you have done this.





Read the rest once you have watched it once or twice.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

Now watch without counting.
Notice anything unusual? How did you miss that? Because you focused on the task at hand. A classic human factor to disregard information you are not looking for when given a task. This can be very dangerous if everyone on a team is focused on a specific task.

I am not entirely sure how this relates to driving. It might be that if you are focused on eating a taco, you will get in an accident.

Friday, November 16, 2007

New Blog Design!

Ta Da!
To celebrate my blog starting to reach more readers, I thought a redesign was in order.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Clocks Should Be More Circadian

To my loyal and oh-so-pithy (that's you Chigiy) blog readers, you may have noticed that I have been a little quite lately.

I am having a hard time adjusting to the daylight savings/lack of daylight savings (WHATEVER!) time change. Actually, it is not the time change that gets to me. Not that I don't enjoy having the same discussion with my husband – and now my kids – every year about springing ahead or falling back and if we have more sleep or less sleep, more daylight or less, what time is it really? WHATEVER!!! It doesn't make much sense to me. What makes a lot more sense is to wake up when it is light outside, and go to bed and read by candlelight when it gets dark. I'd like to throw my clocks out the window and live by my own circadian rhythms.

Less daylight+less outside time for kids=grumpy Mom. I just don't like this time of year. And the days are still growing shorter. Once the winter solstice happens and the days start getting longer again, I cheer up a little. But until then, I'm somewhat hibernating.

The Short Life

At dinner the other night, my seven year old announced quite seriously that he is only going to live to the age of eleven. He said it in a slightly sad, matter of fact way.

"Why?" I asked.

He gazed levelly at me as if I really should know the answer.

"Global warming."

Hmm . . . this kid is not concerned about terrorism. He is much more worried about the destruction of our environment. I wonder if George Bush would take a phone call from a seven year old.

And Your Point Is . . . ?

My fifth grade son announced as soon as he got in the car after school today,

"Mom, guess what! I am going to be the point guard on the basketball team!"

Football just ended last week. I think I was starting to sort of follow it. And with no break at all I am thrust into another sport that I understand very little of.

It's a little embarrassing to admit that I don't really get basketball. I mean, I know the basic basics. I know you need to be tall and I know that Steve Nash is a point guard. But considering how many college basketball games I have been to in the last 15 years with my husband (who comes from a family of rabid college basketball fans), I really should know more than that.

So is a point guard the guy who guards the other team from getting a basket? Is it going to matter that my son is the most, eh, height-challenged player on the team?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Mad Mad Minutes

The Mad Minutes are driving me mad. They are driving my son mad too. And my husband. We are all mad for Mad Minutes.

Mad Minutes have revealed one of those touchy subjects of parenting.

The inevitable comparison.

I try not to do it. I really really try. But it happens.

Comparison is a natural way for parents to gauge how their child is doing. If the child is an Only, we compare him to others the same age or in the same class. If the child has siblings, we compare them to any and all siblings AND others the same age and in the same class. Sometimes the comparison runs amok, and we measure the child by what we ourselves did at the same age, what our spouse or even parents did at the same age. Everyone is fair game.

Comparison, at its heart, is about competition. Is my child better or worse? Ahead or behind? More athletic or more musical? More talented or harder working? More artistic or more of a shit-disturber? Comparison among siblings is a way to gauge strengths and weaknesses. And among siblings, there are certainly different strengths and weaknesses, as living within a family can make so plainly clear.

We try our best to say each child is different, has their own special qualities, different styles of learning, different interests. We just need to honor the person our child is right at this moment.

Most of the time, this works pretty well. But what about when a comparison just slaps you in the face?

Like, how is this kid so different from his brothers?

Mad Minutes are a sheet of math facts to be completed in a fairly short timed period. My second grader is just starting them, so he is working on simple addition. In the years to follow it will progress to multiplication and division. The object of the Mad Minute is to master the math facts on the page so they can be done correctly and quickly.

My two older children sailed through Mad Minutes. They rarely studied for them, maybe a few practice sheets here and there, and they would pass each level and move to the next. Not my second grader. He has been stuck on the same sheet for a month.

His brain doesn't work the same way his brothers' do. He needs a lot more practice, a lot more repetition. It's much harder for him to concentrate and focus on accuracy and speed. I reluctantly got out the flash cards. They were still brand new, my other two never used them. The flash cards frustrated both of us. I tried explaining a few rules and tricks for memorizing the addition facts, and I think that just confused him. We were both frustrated, and he was still stuck on the same page.

My husband came to the rescue. He happens to be very gifted with numbers. He approached the issue with more patience and more concentrated time, and figured out how to help him learn to do the Mad Minutes. He observed what wasn't working and found a method that did. Now he is the official Mad Minutes parent. Apparently, I can't do it.

"Wow," my husband said to me after one long study session, "his brain works a lot more like yours."

By this he means: this could really be a struggle with this kid. Compared to his brothers, my second grader is way behind on his Mad Minutes. Compared to me at the same age, however, he is doing just fine!

So I guess if we are going to compare our kids to others, it matters who we compare them to!
This is me in second grade. Clearly I was much more concerned about dressing like Hollie Hobbie than math.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

If you Listen Carefully

If you listen carefully, you can hear the play-by-play. My two older sons are listening intently. They are supposed to be getting ready for bed. Instead, they are both riveted by the action . . . of a cow eye dissection. I just went in and checked on them and saw the huge eye right there on the computer, streamed in over the DSL line. My 4th grader has a dissection coming up in science and he wanted to see what it would be like. He can't wait.

I am convinced that these are the kind of moments that happen when you have a little extra time . . . time to explore an interest or play. We are a busy family and one of the only ways I can figure out to carve a little more free time is to severely limit television consumption in our house. My kids have rarely watched TV since they were born. It's really not such a foreign concept for me, I rarely watched TV growing up either. We have a little more time for lingering over dinner, reading stories, playing outside if TV is not on anyone's radar. Sometimes the boys even (GASP) get bored! Just as important, my boys are not exposed to the violence or the advertising.

We do watch a few things every once in a while; cooking shows (Rachel Ray is a favorite), sports, and the news if there is a big world event. We watch a movie occasionally, old James Bonds were introduced over this last summer.

Like myself, my children will grow up to be absolutely terrible Trivial Pursuit players. They too will feel the frustration of not being able to contribute to vapid conversations centered around the latest dancing/bachelor/reality shows. But really, it is a small price to pay for all those little moments of playtime. And cow eye dissections.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Why I Hate Halloween



Twenty pounds of candy
(537 pieces, to be exact) collected by one very proud child

Intense scarfing

Sugar-induced mood swings

Ownership and sharing issues

Mom starts to eat more than she cares to admit, since no one will notice

Breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner require candy desserts

ENOUGH!!!!!!!! It must go!!!!!!

Five people, one-and-a-half hour intensive negotiation session over dinner

Final settlement: four-piece allotment on weekend days, two-piece allotment on weekdays, for ten days

Overachieving candy collector gets bonus of ten pieces

Remaining candy to be donated to charity of collector's choice: construction workers who can burn it off without getting fat

Getting all that candy out of the house: priceless!

Having nine year old actually thank me for letting him keep some of the candy: even more priceless!!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Not A Good Idea to Pee on People

Why it is not a good idea to pee on people because they may have to take a shower. Also they may not like it and they will go screaming around. The person who did it may think it is funny while the other person goes and tells on you. "You may go into your room," Mom said. That is the reason to not pee on somebody! The end.

--written as a reflection per my request after incident between two brothers, identity withheld by request of 9 year old

Back from Peru, More Travel Notes to Follow

I am home from Peru. I had a fabulous time and have so many stories to tell. During my trip I had very limited internet access and also very limited time. I will be posting more stories about the trip and some pictures in the next few days.

I'd like to thank my husband publicly for taking such great care of our children while I was gone for ten days. The children had fun, all homework got done, soccer games were played, and I didn't even come home to piles of laundry or dirty dishes. He even told me it was no big deal (not so sure about that). What a guy!

There was only one trip to the emergency room while I was gone (9 year old had to go for stitches due to a self-inflicted wound on forehead). Everyone handled that just fine apparently.

I also managed to be gone for the week my oldest had sex education at school. Even that turned out just fine, he and Dad had some lengthy boy discussions without Mom around.

I'd also like to thank my friends who had my family over for gourmet dinners and fun invitations to make extra sure no one starved or was bored while I was in Peru.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Peru Day Six & Seven

I was quite nervous about going to Cusco. The flight was short, only 50 minutes. Lima is at sea level, Cusco at an elevation of 11,000 feet. I was afraid I would get altitude sickness. Once in the airport at Cusco, we felt the effects of the altitude, the thinner air with less oxygen, right away. Lightheaded, it felt like we swam to baggage claim, and stood around trying not to expend any energy. We were taken straight to our hotel where we were instructed to rest for several hours. I put my suitcase down and climbed into bed, determined to give myself the best chance of acclimating to the altitude. I was able to sleep, while my body produced lots of extra red blood cells.




In the afternoon, a tourguide named Lilly came to collect us and take us around Cusco a bit. We all found ourselves breathing heavier than normal but enamoured with this city of Inca ruins and foundations, and colonial history. Our guide, who looked to me like an Incan princess, was not only very beautiful but very knowledgeable, passionate even, about the history of the area. She also knew Quechua, the ancient language of the Andes.

One of the first sights I saw as I started my tour of Cusco was a little girl in very colorful traditional Andean costume holding the cutest baby goat and wanting very much to stand as close to me as possible to have our picture taken, for a fee of course. Hard to resist. Another thing I noticed right away was the popular footwear: sandals made from old tires. Many people, young and old had them on. They probably never wear out.


We visited such exotic sounding places as Sacsayhuman (pronounced like "sexy woman"), Qoricancha, Tambomachay and Pucapucara. I found the mystery of these ruins intoxicating. I also found it shameful that so much knowledge from these brilliant indiginous people has been lost in such a relatively short period of time. It is hard to believe that we don't even know for sure how they were able to cut the stones they used in their precise and exceedly beautiful asthetic buildings, and how they were polished and shaped. The massive stones fit together like jigsaw pieces without the use of mortar. These people also did incredible things with their water supply, channeling the water underground, running fountains, creating systems that are in some cases still operating today.

Early the next morning we boarded a train for Machu Picchu. The train ride was fascinating. Cusco sits in a valley cradled by the Andes Mountains. To get out of Cusco and into the Sacred Valley toward Machu Picchu, the train must get across some very steep high mountains via a series of switchbacks. Once over that mountain, leaving the shanty dwellings and wandering pigs and dogs along the tracks, the scenery was dramatic and beautiful. At the few stops along the way, people were selling all kinds of things. You can shop and purchase things without ever getting off the train, negotiating and paying right out your window. Many of the adobe brick houses we passed have two bulls made of pottery sitting on the roofs, a traditional protection from earthquakes.

I never tired of seeing all the terraces, some entire mountainsides completely terraced for agricultural purposes long long ago. Some are still in use. Potatoes and corn were the most common crops grown in the area. As we got closer to Machu Picchu, some parts of the Inca trail were visible. It winds along impossibly steep mountainsides.

My guidebook describes Machu Picchu as "the most celebrated ruins in South America and a place that retains its mystery, allure, and spectacular beauty despite its enduring popularity, Machu Picchu is one of the most dramatic places on earth, one that holds a mystical appeal . . ." With such an build up and expectations, I was prepared to be disappointed. I was not. It is a place that photos cannot do justice in capturing, as it's setting in the mountains is something that really has to be experienced in person. Wandering through the site, I found myself really wishing that my husband and boys were there. I certainly hope to bring them to this wondrous place sometime. Machu Picchu was the single most crowded attraction I visited on my entire trip, but even that could not detract from the magical experience of being there.






Exhausted, sunburned, hot, but very happy, we descend on the scary switchback road in a bus to get back to the train. We stay in the Sacred Valley that night, at a lovely hotel called Sonesta Posada del Inca Yucay. We check in and are in our rooms for maybe ten minutes when a spectacular rainstorm, with thunder and lightening starts, and the lights go off in the hotel. It is exciting and dramatic. Both my friends whip out little flashlights, and I am so impressed. At least we can see for a while before the generator comes on and provides some light. We dash through the rain to the lovely little restaurant where we all convene and celebrate a day full of contrasts and drama.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Peru Day Five

Hard to believe this is our last day of Spanish classes! We bring our teachers gifts of American magazines, some treats, and some extra spending money. Then we learn that we can continue classes once we get home online, one-on-one interaction with a teacher. I vow to do this.

After class we go to a cebiche restaurant called Pescados Capitales. It is a very popular place with an interesting them. The name is a play on the word fish and also capital sins. I don't quite understand the wordplay, but I do know that this place has a theme and they carry it out as much as they possibly can. Which is pretty far.

Our group spend a very pleasant two hours or so. We all ordered different things to share. The menu was something to linger over, it was so extensive and so very entertaining. The menu is themed around sins. The sins include avarice, anger, laziness, lust, gluttony, envy, and pride.

One thing we ordered:



Santa Ira
Holy Anger: Grilled Octopus
The English menu describes it as Grilled teenager octopus into aromatic butter comes with green asparagus, it's necessary to eat warm. The Spanish menu has a lot more interesting innuendo. It is translated something like this: A teenage octopus, perhaps still chaste but we don't know for sure, is submerged in butter, is struck by passion and soon controlled by fire on the grill. It is accompanied on the coals by perfumed asparagus. Indispensably eaten warm.

I almost didn't want to eat it after reading the description, but am I glad I did. It was probably one of the best dishes I have ever had!

Their website is a fun place to visit, even if you can't read spanish at all. Check it out at: www.pescados-capitales.com. You can download a copy of the menu there too.

It was just before this meal that I had a feeling I was not going to escape Inca's Revenge. After the meal, which I really enjoyed, I couldn't deny any longer that I was going to fall victim. What to do? Mentally put yourself in denial as much as possible.

All of a sudden, at the end of our meal, the tour guide from the other day, Fernando, Mr. Crazy Spanglish, suddenly appeared at our table. I thought my god, is he going to tell us he was mugged and lost all his money? Is this becoming a common scam?? I just stared at him and waited to hear his story. Oh, I finally grasp that he is there to lead us on a tour for the rest of the afternoon. I am considerably cheered up by the prospect of listening to his creative speech. A few others in our group were not so excited and decided to go off shopping instead.

Fernando took us to the Barranco, described as a bohemian and romantic residential district in Lima. I enjoyed the area, particularly seeing the creative kind of graffiti practiced there. No obnoxious spray paint on the walls around here, no sir! The graffiti is in the form of carving on the leaves of the aloe vera plants in the area. I think Fernando the tourguide was really feeling the romance of the place, because he asked me an odd question: Are you single, divorced, or a happy widow? I looked at him with an odd expression, confused by an apparent babelfish translation. Dude, I'm wearing a wedding ring, what are you talking about? A little bit later, he asked me how old I was. I told him the brutal truth, forty with three kids. You would have thought I just shot the guy. He gasped loudly and kind of jumped a little. He looked at me with eyes dilated with . . . fright? I was feeling lost in translation. I tried asking him a question: how old are you? He replied 32 (I thought he was older). He then pulled me aside from the group and said he couldn't believe I was that old and how could I possibly have three kids (ok, I'm liking this guy) and he just assumed I was single since I wasn't traveling with a husband and that my kids must be very good and never make any noise because I didn't have any wrinkles. Then, to top it off, he said "your husband is a very lucky man." I just know I was staring at him with the most confused look on my face as I tried to translate his Spanglish and figure out if he was kind of picking up on me.

Dinner that night was on our own. I really wanted to go to Astrid y Gaston, and it was our last night in Lima so this was it! This restaurant is supposedly one of the top 50 in the world, I had to go.

Actually, I did have to go. The Inca's Revenge feeling was not going away. Others in our group were falling vicitim also. I discreetly inquired of Fernando (not the tour guide, the Fernando we came with) if there were any medications available for what was ailing me. He disappeared and then came back to take me from the hotel to the pharmacy across the street to get a medication written on a little scrap of paper. I handed the paper to the attendant and she ripped off a pack of ten white pills from a sheet of them, charged me $9, threw them in a bag and handed them to me. I had no idea what I just purchased, it came with no instructions, no warnings, no nothing. I carefully examined the fine print on the foil backing of the sheet of pills to discover that I had just bought Cipro, a strong antibiotic. OK, I'd be OK. I wanted to go to this restaurant tonight, not see too much of the bathroom there, and then get back to the hotel to start the medication. Fernando, one of my friends (who was almost over the Inca's Revenge), and myself hopped in a cab to meet the others already on their way to the restaurant.

The cab ride was another interesting one. At one point our driver was lost. He stopped the car (in the middle of an intersection, blocking the street) and hopped out. He walked into a small corner market and was gone for what started to feel like an uncomfortable amount of time, leaving us in the taxi alone to hear all the angry honking going on. The driver came out and motioned to the other drivers that his car was dead. Crazy maneuvering began in earnest as people tried to get around us. Then he hopped back into the taxi and drove off. A few minutes later, while trying to park the taxi on an even narrower street, we heard the crunch of metal on metal. Getting out, we saw that he had hit a heavy steel cage protecting a spindly little sickly looking tree. Now I know why the trees on the sidewalks have cages around them.

Astrid y Gaston was a swanky place, lined with wine racks and populated by men in business suits dining together. I ordered one of the most highly recommended dishes, suckling pig. It was poor choice and I should have known better, it was far too fatty for my taste and I really wasn't feeling so great in the digestion department anyway. As much as I hate to admit, I was disappointed. I was expecting something that would wow me, and it just didn't happen. And the menu was translated into English far too well to be the least bit entertaining.

Back to the hotel, we packed up and got some rest, as we were leaving Lima early in the morning for Cusco.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Peru Day Four


Another very fun and successful day at the language school. I am starting to understand a lot more of what I hear around me, which is exciting. Right after classes we are whisked away to the Larcomar shopping center in the Miraflores area of Lima. This is the primo shopping mall in Lima, and it is in a stunning location, perched on the cliffs overlooking the ocean. There is a lot of security surrounding the mall, which is outdoors but has limited access points.

We have a quick lunch and then everyone goes in their own direction to do some shopping. I poke through some stores, wander around, check out the view. Visiting the famous Alpaca 111 store, I decide to buy my husband a beautiful blue alpaca sweater. Wandering around some more, I realize that I am listening to piped in music, the Beatles Andean style. Little did I know that I would hear the Beatles Andean style just about everywhere else I would go on this trip. I pass by a fast-food burger stand which offers a special Ham and Roses burger. Not too sure what's in that one.

After leaving the shopping center, one of my friends and I decide to take a taxi back to the hotel. We were a little nervous hailing a cab outside this mall populated by tourists and surrounded by guards, carrying shopping bags. Wait a minute! There is a Marriot Hotel right across the street. We go over and ask the concierge to help us get a taxi back to our hotel. He shows us into a very nice taxi and we are about to take off when we remember we are supposed to ask the price first. The driver hesitates for a bit and then informs us it will be $30. Now just yesterday we took a long exciting ride for only $4. Something is wrong here. We say no thanks and climb back out of the taxi. Now what?? We walk around the entrance to the hotel, just to the other side of the block and a taxi pulls right up. Quanto cuesta? The price is $6. We take it and have a very calm ride back to the hotel.

Once back at the hotel we hurry to make our appointments across the street. My friend and I have booked a facial and massage at a spa. We rush over. Greeted by a hostess, we do our best to follow her through a warren of rooms, some with sliding doors, to a changing area. Once changed, I go off for a facial and my friend for a massage. I follow my facialist to a room with sliding walls on both sides. As I settle in, people are going through the room I am in, which is not exactly relaxing. I put it out of my mind and proceed with the most unusual facial I have ever had. Maybe in the southern hemisphere, they do facials exactly the opposite of what they do where I live. Where I expected heat or steam, I received cold creams and massage with glass balls filled with ice. It was not entirely unpleasant, just puzzling. I was never sure what was coming next.

Once my facial was over, I met my friend in the waiting area. She had the most curious expression on her face. She quickly told me in a stage whisper, "My God that is the strangest massage I have ever had. Just try not to laugh, I got the giggles." I start to tell her about the facial when the masseuse, Pedro, comes to get me and seems in a hurry. I steel myself and trot after him.

I had to concentrate really hard for an entire hour to control my impulse to burst out laughing. I think it would have been very rude, because Pedro was putting a whole lot of effort into this massage. He vigorously and quickly massaged my body in a way that was not relaxing at all. It was, well, invigorating. It kind of hurt. I felt like I was getting a workout. I felt like I might also be bruised in the morning. When he got to my feet, which are ticklish, he moved them around in a rhythmic way and then slapped them repeatedly. I fiercely fought my urge to laugh. Then, to my surprise, the massage included areas on my body that are normally off limits to a stranger. Peruvian massage covers almost everything, making sure all parts of the body do not feel left out; the inner thigh, the butt, the stomach. As I was experiencing this, I kept thinking about my sister and mother who had a very strange massage experience one time in Korea. OK, this was not as weird as theirs, no one walked on my back and there was no avocado involved.

Afterward, I felt really invigorated. We made our way back to the hotel to get ready for a group dinner out. We had reservations at La Juaca Pucllana, a restaurant on an archeological site. When we arrived, we passed through the very heavy security outside. Not just anyone can come to this restaurant apparently. We all sat down at our long table overlooking the dramatically lit 2,000 year old ruins. Pisco sours all around, and then dinner. One person in our group was brave enough to order cuy. It's pronounced coo-EE. I tried a bite. It does not taste like chicken. Maybe that is because it is guinea pig. Yes, cuy is a traditional food eaten mostly by people who live in the Andes Mountains. This preparation was a pretty normal looking meal and the person who ordered it really enjoyed it. I was to see a much more interesting example of how cuy can be served later in the trip.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Peru Day Three


After language school today, we had the opportunity to lunch at a restaurant called Cala, right on the ocean in Lima. Cala specializes in seafood and had wonderful food, but by far the most interesting thing about the restaurant was the menu, translated from Spanish to English in a most creative way, made all the more funny by the bracing pisco sour we had to start.

We had our choice of:

Our traditional salted but with us Angus short ribs

Juicy rice in black sauce with grilled shrimps, reduction of chili peppers and coral

Rare-done ahi tuna sealed with juices of mirin, covers the turnip spaghettis

Kid legs, shoulder and loin 24hrs marinated in indian corny brandy, grape mixed with pisco, borgona wine and Peruvian squash perfect slow cooked with a patty of fried rice and smooth pureed yellow manioc

To Make Life Sweetteness

Martini of lucuma custard over Meringue and chocolate
Breaded cheesecake fingers in Aguaymanto sauco and raspberry sauce
Crispy ponderation filled with Peruvian cinnamon milk sauce, happy custard apple, guanabana and caramelized aquaymanto
Big plate with the best cala's bitosize donout desserts

Unfortunately, after this meal, one of my travel companions was the first to be visited by what we'd like to refer to as Inca's Revenge. Something disagreed with her and she later had to retire to her room, not to emerge until completely empty. She introduced a new word to me: shart. The rest of our group was sympathetic, but would have been even more so if we knew that we would, almost all of us, feel the effects of Inca's Revenge by the end of the trip. Never would I have dreamed of having so many conversations about bodily functions with people besides my own children.

I suppose it is time to introduce my travel companions. There were 15 of us all together. Mirta, my local Spanish teacher, and her Peruvian husband Fernando organized the trip. Two of my girlfriends, also traveling without their husbands or families were there. The rest of the group, all from the area I live, were new to me. But not for long. Like any group of people, there is always a character that stands out. That character on this trip was Lou. I will leave the other wonderful people I met on the trip well enough alone in this blog, but not Lou.

Lou is a 65 year old man, large sturdy build, thin grey short hair, a mouth full of silver braces. Yes, braces. Divorced and looking for love. In Peru. Within a day of meeting him, I knew all about how he met several ladies online who live in Peru, and he was hoping to meet up with them during the trip. One such woman, I don't know her name and didn't get to meet her, traveled 14 hours on a bus from where she lived to meet Lou in Lima. She was 28 years old. They met, he took her to a nice dinner, they got along very well (according to him). The next day they were supposed to meet and she canceled. The next evening they were supposed to meet. Lou bought some Peruvian potatoes, a special variety that are supposed to have properties similar to Viagra. That evening didn't go so well, she showed up late and drunk, and they got in an argument. He's not sure if he will bring her to visit him in the US.

Meanwhile, Lou entertained us all by talking to, and asking out, every single breathing female he came into contact with on our trip. Every tour guide, every hotel and restaurant employee, the ladies in the language school, other students in the language school, ticket agents at the airport, EVERY SINGLE FEMALE. Unless she was over about 40. This guy tried so hard. I was embarrassed for him. Here and there others on the trip would try to talk to him about being careful, women might want to take advantage of his US passport and his US money. But he was so desperately lonely and trying so hard that even if the woman he was talking to didn't understand a word of English, she instantly understood him. That kind of female intuition is universal I think. The braces didn't help either. I think he would be fine with a woman trying to take advantage of him, but he couldn't find anyone to do that either.

So, where were we? Oh yes, lunch at Cala. After that hours-long affair, our tour took us to the Petit Thouars. A shopping heaven for some, to me it looked like a series of giant flea markets haphazardly jammed together and filled floor to ceiling with colorful touristy junk. Ick. I don't like this kind of shopping at all. Very pushy sales tactics, haggling over prices, trying to find the gem in the haystack, yuck yuck yuck.


I did the cursory speedy lap around the market, chanting "no gracias" and holding my cash inside my hand inside my pocket. Back out in the courtyard, I caught my breath and all of a sudden Rosa appeared! Rosa, our tour guide from the first day. She then started to explain to us how the night before, she had been mugged and her purse, containing all the cash she earned from our tour, her house keys, her cell phone, everything she owned was gone. She looked at us with her sad, tearing brown eyes and produced from her pocket a brand new key she had to have made for her apartment. Of course we all felt terrible for her and quickly got together a donation of $10 per person for a total of $150. She accepted it with the promise that the first thing she was going to do was buy a new cell phone for herself. As she left, something seemed strange. Wait a minute, isn't it an amazing coincident that in a city of 9 million people we happen to run into her in this particular section of a huge market? Isn't it strange that she seemed to be there alone, not guiding a group of tourists? Why do I get the feeling that we had just been ripped off? In hind sight, several people in our group came to the same conclusion. Others refused to believe that sweet Rosa with tears in her eyes could be anything but completely sincere. I will never know for sure, but $10 means a lot more to her than to me, so if she needed it badly enough to put on that kind of performance, she is welcome to my donation.

After giving money to Rosa, we had to take a taxi back to our hotel. Our friend Fernando gave us some advice about the taxis. Try to pick a good one, not one that will rob you. The driver should not be too young. The driver should also not be too old. The car should be a decent one, not too nice. Look the driver in the eye and make sure he is a good person before you get in.

OK. We're somewhat nervous.

We quickly pair off and my two girlfriends and myself find ourselves with Mirta hailing the first taxi that comes along. We look at it. Everything about it goes directly against the advice her husband just gave us. She jumps in the front seat and impatiently motions for us to pile in. We stare, thinking she is completely crazy or has some kind of death wish. She insists it's fine and throwing common sense to the wind, we squeeze in the back seat. The car is stripped down. Downright minimal I'd say. The inside is all bare dirty metal. The glovebox is held together with a twist tie and an old Bic pen. As we proceed down the road, it is apparent that the mechanics of the car don't work so well either. Each time we have to stop and then go again, it is a question in each person's mind, including the driver I'm sure, if the car will cooperate and move in a forward direction. Grinding clanking groaning noises come from the engine area. The car has no shocks either, so we feel each pebble as well as each pot hole. The traffic is very heavy. Lane lines are merely a suggestion that no one follows. We are so close to the car next to us that I could easily reach out and pick the nose of the driver. Just entering into my consciousness is the sound of a siren behind us. As we all realize it is getting louder, we turn around. Bearing down on us from behind is an ambulance. But we are in the middle of a completely jammed intersection, there's not one inch of space for us to move. The ambulance is directly behind us now, wailing insistently. I am convinced that it is going to drive right over the top of our car. Two out of four passengers scream. Our driver doesn't react in any way. Once we are able to move out of the intersection and the ambulance can get by us, our driver waves him by, as if to say "come on, pass me already."

We all laugh nervously and start to relax just a bit. Traffic lets up and we are cruising down the street, three cars abreast in two marked lanes. Mirta looks back at us from the front seat and says "isn't this fun?" We all look back at the traffic just in time to see our taxi driver gunning to overtake a car and cut right in front of a large delivery truck, a gutsy move in a gutless car. This time, four out of four passengers scream.

Finally arriving at our hotel, we tumble out, very glad to have survived the taxi ride. We pay the driver the equivalent of $4 and count it as one of the most reasonable thrill rides ever. Not one I want to try again though, thank you very much.

We go to the bank of three elevators in our hotel. The one on the far left opens up. By now we know that this particular elevator is possessed. Sometimes it will take you to the correct floor, sometimes not. The elevator reads Floor 4 as Somewhere in the Range of Floor 4. As we rehash our exciting taxi ride, each of us gets off on the wrong floor and we find our way to our rooms, laughter echoing in the staircase. My friend with Inca's Revenge is not laughing though, she is running at this point.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Peru Day Two

I started this post during my trip to Peru. I am going to publish this one as I wrote it, then the remainder of posts will be recollections.

Starbucks is across the street from the hotel! My roommate hates this fact. I love this fact. The Nescafe is getting to me. Or maybe it is the evaporated milk that is getting to me.

?¿?¿It´s only day two?¿?¿? Spanish keyboard is so fun!

What a long day. Spanish class this morning at Del Sol Language School. There were four of us in class together, and we covered a lot of ground. The teacher didn´t speak English to us at all. We learned useful things like party pooper = fiesta pooper. For some reason, this and many other phrases sent us into fits of laughing. I´m sure we are the most fun (or irritating) students in the entire school. At the break we watched a crazy home-made video of other things the school offers, like cooking classes, kareoke in Spanish, and salsa dancing. They offered coca tea, a traditional tea in the mountains for altitude sickness, even though we are in Lima at sea level. The tea made me feel funny, like I was at a high altitude though. Weird. After class, we walked in a group several blocks away to a lunch place that looked exactly like a french cafe, but with lots more waiters. One member of our group asked if they served alpaca there. The workers laughed and the word quickly spread that the crazy nord americanos want alpaca. I had an empanada and also a sandwich, both could have been served in France. To top it off, I had and excellent eclair. Many people here drink Inca Cola, a soft drink that tastes like bubble gum. It is a shocking yellow color, exactly like urine after taking vitamins, very unappetizing.

After lunch, we got on a small bus for a tour of Lima with our tour guide Fernando. Fernando had the craziest Spanglish I have ever heard. I had to really concentrate to understand him. His word combinations were sometimes so funny that we´d have to stifle giggles. At one point I had tears running down my face, thank god for sunglasses. Fernando had a LOT of information and history to share, and was so passionate about his subject. Before we got out of the bus to walk to the cathedral, he told us, "the ruler is, please not to give monies to the childrens, they will rape you," and "the muscle mans, they have exciting when the ladies to be seen."

We toured the main square and cathedral in Lima, both in sadly shabby condition. The square happened to be closed to traffic, so we could walk in the street and could clearly see and take a picture in front of the tank, armed by a man with a machine gun. A dog, dressed in a sweater and beret, walked by the tank, which also happened to have a fire hydrant just next to it. We peeked into a shabby little bar where all the important government people eat lunch or have a pisco sour. Bars on windows, barbed wire, electric fences, and armed guards protect many many buildings. It is unsettling to walk around near these places. Most of the buildings are drab and ugly, concrete, brick and glass. No landscaping, but most areas are quite clean. Grafitti and garbage are minimal.

Later we are picked up by our bus and taken to what is essentially a Peruvian luau. It is a very nice restaurant in the Larcomar, the most upscale shopping area in Miraflores, the most upscale area of Lima. The restaurant, La Dama Juana, had a buffet with typical Peruvian food, and a music and dance show. Only tourists were in the restaurant. The dancing was really quite good, and the traditional costumes beautiful. Then at one point, two men and two women came out to perform the Alcatraz dance (named after the bird, I assume, not the island prison). Each woman had a white napkin pinned to her butt. Her partner had a large candle, which was lit. The object of the dance was for the man to light the woman's fire, so to speak. She does not make it so easy, shaking her hips and moving in such a way that he has to work at lighting it, of course watching her hips sway close to his face. It was funny, erotic and fascinating.

Then, the dancers came and asked for me and one of my travel companions to join them onstage. They pinned the napkin on our butts and told us to "move your body," which we did our best to do so we were not lit on fire! Then we had a chance to take the candle and try to light the napkin on the guy's butt. It was much harder than you can imagine. So my friend decided to grab the napkin and hold it to get a better chance at lighting it. "No no no!" said the man, not what she was supposed to do! We sat down in fits of laughter and watched as one of the woman successfully lit her man on fire.

After this dance, a group of young men --wait, they are boys-- came out to perform the scissors dance. They had a large pair of scissors, which looked as if they were not hinged together, in one gloved hand. They had crazy outfits, brightly colorful and embroidered, many layered and not unlike what you might imagine as a Peruvian clown, and Converse high tops. They proceeded to perfom a very athletic form of what looked to me like break dancing, all while continuously clanking their scissors to the beat of the music. I know my boys would have loved to see this. It was a cacacphony of sound and movement, completely mesmerising. It was so different from anything else I've ever seen, that I didn't mind having to eat at the buffett to enjoy it.

Music and dance are fundamental to the very fabric of Peru, my guidebook says. I am certainly glad we got to see some excellent dancing, even in the most touristy of establishments. Hey, I'm a fan of luaus, what can I say?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Peru Day One

I started my first day in Peru by brushing my teeth with sparkling water and then going to breakfast while Barry Manilow serenaded the dining room. I ended my first day by listening to Copacabana, also by Barry, riding back in a taxi to the hotel.




In between, I donned an apron for a culinary tour of Lima. The apron was to identify the people in our group, which really wasn´t necessary, but we all worn big flashy white aprons, like a bunch of cooking groupies, all around town. First we went to a market, outdoors but exceedingly clean, neat and organized. We looked at all the fish and then the produce. Peru has some unusual fruits I´ve never seen or tasted. Some are related to passionfruit or quince. We got to tast a cherimoya, which looks and feels like an alien egg pod. It is large, hard and green with big scale looking things. It was very delicious, unlike any fruit I´ve had in taste or texture.

Next, the 15 of us, with our tour guide Rosa and her assistant Jonaton got on a huge motorcoach and cruised to the famous ceviche restaurant in Lima called Calbina. At the restaurant, they howed us how to prepare the ceviche. The juice that the ceviche is marinated in is called leche de tigre, or milk of the tiger. They also serve it like a shot in a little glass (without the fish in it). Then we went to an old bar, which is quite famous in Lima. It was a small series of rooms with tables and chairs and lots of old framed photos on the walls. Down the street and around the corner, still with our aprons on, we went to another bar where the bartender demonstrated how to make a pisco sour. Pisco is a distilled product smiliar to brandy, 40 to 50% alcohol (80 to 100 proof). The recipe included lime juice, simple syrup, and egg white. The bartender worked the shaker and we all had a taste of the pisco. Then the bartender indicated that I should shake the next one. After having already had a pisco sour (and they are SOUR), I thought sure, why not! I stepped up to the bar, took the shaker in both hands, and proceeded to go into what I´m sure was a very cute little dance. I forgot that the lids to shakers need to be held down. Pisco sour sprayed all over me and several people standing near me who didn´t jump away fast enough.


From there we went to a restaurant for lunch, a creole place with a buffet. I normally don´t like buffets. This lunch was pretty good though. It cost $22/person. Many people in Lima make about $300/month, so this is a restaurant for tourists and the wealthy. Our tourguides would never have been able to eat at such a restaurant but we invited them to join us. Remember the name Rosa, you will see her again in my blog.

Later still, we went to a huge supermarket called, strangely, Wong. I´m not sure if we still had the aprons at this point. It turns out that the many Chinese immigrants who came to Peru ran small markets. This one grew into a giant sensory overload. After such a long day, it was overwhelming. Wong is like a combination of international market, Target, and a department store, with a Nordstrom piano player and lots of people in uniforms walking around with food for people to taste; sandwiches, ice cream, chorizo sausages. I wandered around with a glazed expression. I really just wanted to buy some water and fruit to keep in my room. Everything all of a sudden took so much effort, reading labels in Spanish, converting soles to dollars. It is really hard to shop in a foreign country. I bought a cherimoya and went back to the hotel, listening to Barry Manilow in the taxi on the way, to get rid of the shirt with pisco all over it.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Off to Peru

Dear Loyal Blog Readers,

I am off to Peru. I am sure I will have lots of good stories to post, but I am not traveling with a laptop this time. I will try to find an Internet Cafe so I can post some things along the way, so check back soon. My husband declined the opportunity to be Guest Blogger for the duration of my trip. He thinks he will be too busy. He's probably right, but I'm sure he will have some good stories to tell during my time away. I'll relay those when I return.
Adios!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

These Boots Are Made For Walking


. . . and that's just what I'll do. One of these days these boots are going to walk all over Peru. (That is the 45 by Nancy Sinatra in the picture)

I am going to Peru in a couple of days. I'm excited about the trip. I'm going with some girlfriends, to learn some Spanish, eat at some fabulous restaurants, and visit Machu Picchu. We are leaving our children behind, in the care of our husbands, all of whom are perfectly capable of running things while we're gone.

So why is it so damn hard for moms to leave their children, even for a vacation that they really want to go on? I have to admit, I've left my kids before. But my friends haven't. And leaving your kids, especially for the first time, is very difficult for mothers.

The first time I left my oldest child was to go out to dinner with my husband. I had a difficult childbirth and a rough couple of weeks with my new baby. I distinctly remember my mother telling me that I needed some time with just my husband. What? WHO? I don't need time with him! She said, "I know, you might not need time with him right now, but he needs time with you." So we made plans to go to dinner, somewhere very close by, and my mom would babysit. Walking out that door and leaving my baby for the first time was one of the hardest things I've ever done. All rational and logical thought left me and raw emotion (or was it hormones?) took over. I had to sit in the car for fifteen minutes, sobbing in the driveway, before we could go. I couldn't enjoy my meal or think of anything to talk about besides the baby, no matter how hard I tried. I was very anxious to get back home.

With practice, I got a lot better at being separated from my children. It was never very easy for me until they were a little older and more independent. But I did it, for the benefit of my marriage, and myself, and my kids too. A little space can do wonders for gaining perspective and time away allows me to recharge.

One of the hard things about leaving children is arranging everything and trying to make sure all their needs are met when we are away. Carpool, sports equipment, lunches, snacks, what will they eat for dinner, can my husband do the laundry, will he do the laundry, will the homework get done, bedtime. We mothers get really involved in the details of making sure the Excel spreadsheet is filled out to the most minute detail so nothing gets dropped. All this focus on detail distracts us from the thought, the fear, what if something happens to us? What if we die in a plane crash and leave our children? They still need us! This fear is very real, if somewhat irrational, for most mothers, whether they care to admit it or not. We are hard-wired to care for our children, to nurture and protect them for as long as we can. But we have to help remind each other that separation is OK, even good. Our children gain life skills, get to see their father can provide for all their needs, and they even get to miss us. We, in turn, get some time away, a chance for a unique adventure or to learn a new skill, some perspective on our daily lives and our parenting. We might even get a glimpse of the possibilities in store for us when our children really don't need us so much anymore.

I think I need practice for that too.

Creatures of Comfort


My nine year old has a teddy bear that he has slept with since he was a newborn baby. Teddy has such a well-loved and somewhat fragile look to him these days. I've been wondering, how long will he sleep with Teddy? I will be very sad the day Teddy gets tossed out of his bed, no longer necessary in the night-time ritual.

Teddy used to travel with us. But one trip about four years ago, Teddy was in a suitcase that lost it's way and did not end up in the same airport we did. Of course, he was in a black suitcase that looked exactly like everyone else's suitcase. We filed a report with the airline and hoped for the best. The rest of the items in the suitcase were of no great value, we just wanted Teddy back. My son was heartbroken, his best friend was lost. At his urging, I called the airline several times a day until I reached a kind soul who went into the No Man's Land of Lost Luggage and starting opening black suitcases until she came to one with a well worn teddy bear squished inside. Oh, the relief! We were so thankful and relieved to get him back home.

I got rid of that black suitcase. I wrote a letter to the airline employee who went out of her way for a little boy (and enclosed a picture of him with Teddy). And we instituted a new rule: Teddy never rides in suitcases.

My ten year old also has a Creature of Comfort: a blankie. He might be embarrassed to admit it, but he still sleeps with Blankie every night. Blankie is very very worn and well loved. My son gets irritated when Blankie is in the laundry, and to be honest, I'm trying not to wash him much because I'm afraid he'll disintegrate.

My seven year old has Teddy-Bunny and a few other night time friends. They rotate in and out of favor, therefore are not nearly as worn. They don't get much time in the bed, usually falling to the floor.

My husband had a sweet Teddy bear when he was little. His mother kept it in a plastic bag and gave it to us years ago, when our children were still very little. At the time I thought it was a little odd that she kept this bear. Now I understand. These Creatures of Comfort, no matter how threadbare they become, hold special memories of our children.

I had two that I remember. One was a grey poodle, nearly as big as I, that I received from friends of my parents. The fur was very very soft. The other was a little hot pink and purple hippo that I bought with my own money at the drugstore. I named him Hippy and he went to school with me frequently, but never came out of my backpack.

What Creature of Comfort did you have as a child? What about your children? Use the pencil icon below to comment.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Laudrymat

My town has a resident character who goes everywhere with just swim trunks on. They are nice trunks, but that is all he wears. No shoes, no shirt. It doesn't mean no service because I've seen him getting coffee at the local chain. He does have lots of tattoos and a very fit body. He wears eye glasses, but they don't count as clothing.

I ran into Mr. Barefoot today at the laundrymat. I don't hang out there real often, but when I have a garbage bag full of clothes that my kids wore while tromping through poison oak and a creek, I like to wash them somewhere other than my own washing machine.

I wonder what Mr. Barefoot could possibly be washing at the laundrymat? Maybe an extra pair of trunks? Maybe he wears clothes to bed? I tried to spy on him a bit, but couldn't tell what was in his washer. It did appear to be a small amount of clothing. When he started doing jumping exercises in front of the washer, apparently using the laundrymat as a barefoot gym as well, I couldn't stop giggling and had to look away. I mean, I like to multitask, but that's a little weird.

Mr. Barefoot then dashed out the door, into the chilly air, still in only trunks. I had to see what car he got into. It was what I least expected: a late model minivan!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Ouch My Foot Hurts


I shaved my son's legs this weekend. Who would have thought that a nine year olds' legs are so hairy!

I shaved his leg because his foot was hurting.

No, I am not completely crazy. My nine year old, and now my ten year old, have Sever's Syndrome. They were diagnosed after I took them to an orthopedist specializing in adolescent sports issues. The symptoms are: painful swollen heel, stiffness in the heel and lower calf in the morning or after sitting for a period of time, and limping.

I took my nine year old in because he said, "Mom, my foot really REALLY hurts." This is a kid who has a very high tolerance for pain (more on that later), so I immediately made him an appointment. The foot had been hurting for a month or so and soccer season was just about to be in full swing. I immediately started worrying and imagining this very active kid in a cast. It freaked me out. I was more nervous for the appointment than he was. The doctor carefully examined his foot, manipulated all the bones, moved it in all directions, "does this hurt?" and "what about this, does this hurt?" About five minutes later, he told me, "Your son has Sever's Syndrome. Have him take Aleve for 10 days and use these gels in his shoes. It will go away in a few months." Huh? What is Sever's? He wrote it down for me and told me to "look it up on the internet there's lots of information there call me if you have any questions thanks for coming NEXT!!!"

OK, so Sever's Syndrome is not that exciting for an orthopedist, but I'd never heard of it. And my son has it, so I better know what the heck it is! I soon learned that Sever's is fairly common. Many boys suffer from it but don't know what it is or how it can be treated. So I thought I'd share for all those moms of active boys (and girls).

From my research:
Sever's syndrome is a painful heel condition that affects growing adolescents between the ages of nine and 14. In this condition, the growing part of the heelbone grows faster than the tendon that connects on the back of the heel. This tightens up the tendon and creates tension where it attaches to the heel. Eventually, the tension causes the area to become inflamed and painful. Fortunately, the condition is not serious. It is usually only temporary. In normal development, specialized bone growth centers (called growth plates) change over time from cartilage to bone. The growth plates expand and unite. This is how bones grow in length and width. Bone growth centers are located throughout the body.

As the bones of the leg begin to grow longer, they sometimes grow at a faster pace than the Achilles tendon. The Achilles tendon is then too short. It begins to put tension on the back of the heel. When this happens in kids who are active in running and jumping sports, pain occurs where the Achilles tendon attaches to the heel.

Kids with tight hamstring and calf muscles seem to have a greater risk for the condition. The problem is compounded when they play sports on hard surfaces, such as playing soccer on hard outdoor fields. The constant impact can disrupt the bone growth centers in the back of the heel, causing inflammation and pain.

Sometimes, the passing of time may be all that is needed. It takes one to two years for the bone growth plates that make up the back of the heel to grow together and form one solid bone. At this point, pain and symptoms usually go away completely.

The doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medicine to help reduce pain and swelling. A small lift or pad placed under the sore heel may help, too. The lift angles the foot down slightly. This angle relaxes the Achilles tendon and reduces stress where the tendon attaches on the back of the heel. In severe cases, when other forms of treatment don't give relief, doctors may recommend a walking cast for six to 12 weeks. The goal is to stop the foot from moving so that inflammation and pain go away.

I read this information with my son and he felt better knowing the cause of his pain. When we got to the part about the walking cast, he eyes widened and he was ready to do whatever he needed to do. First of all, we went and got him a really good-fitting pair of supportive running shoes. He happened to be fitted by a man who specializes in fitting runners, and he was familiar with Achilles issues. He spent a lot of time with us, trying lots of different pairs of shoes until we found a pair with the right mechanics for his foot. Then he took the insole out of the shoe and cut some cardboard to fit in the heel area, put the insole back, then had my son try the shoe with the gel inserts. After all this, when the sticker shock for this pair of shoes was starting to make me sweat, he gave me a nice discount. I had all three boys with me there and he was pretty sure he'd be seeing us again.

The Aleve helps, the shoes with inserts help. And taping up his Achilles for the soccer games really helps too. My husband taped ankles for various sports when he was in college, so he is the Designated Taper (DT) now in our house. (For a good description of how to tape an Achilles, see http://www.sportsinjuryclinic.net/cybertherapist/back/achilles/tendinitis/taping.php)

The first time we taped him, he thought it worked great, but taking the tape off was very painful. He described it as "ripping my flesh off." So before we taped it for the next game, we all decided that shaving his leg was a good idea. I, being the most experienced at shaving legs, am now the Designated Leg Shaver (DLS) in the house.