Saturday, June 21, 2008

letters from the past, I leave my baby and my baby leaves me in the dust, and more

So I've been sorting through boxes I packed in 1998. Most of them are full of correspondence. Notes from junior high school, notes from high school. Lots of letters from my mom. My mom and my friend Sarah were my two most constant correspondents. Many visually stunning cards and letters (hand made) from Sarah and Lisa. Reading old journals was embarrassing but I feel like I should save them so I can more easily relate to Lucy and Josie's high drama later in life (who am I kidding later in life? Lucy is already a drama queen...). It seems like adolescence is all about the high drama. College, hard to say. All about thinking you are thinking profound thoughts when you're not really? Or all about learning how not to be an a**hole? I wonder what I will think this period of my life is all about when I look back on it?

So I've only been away from home for three days and I'm going back tomorrow. Meanwhile Josie has left me in the dust! She learned how to pull up to standing while I'm gone. Teach a mom never to leave home will you? Girlfriend, cut your mom a break. Can't you wait a couple days on the big innovations until I'm back???

Funny update from weekend edition on NPR. Clothes shopping for teenage girls requires rules these days, like no words on your butt (juicy ring a bell anyone?). Great interview with a recent author of a book called laughing without an accent. The interview was hilarious. I'll have to read the book myself.

I continued my dog quest while abroad in the Palouse. I found a wonderful Australian shepherd mix at the Moscow humane society. He was perfect in every way except that he snapped at a couple of pitbulls in a nearby cage, thus eliminating him from consideration. Dogs that fight other dogs may end up with a small human in the way. I can't have that. Trying to be a hard-ass on the adoption front is hard work. I want to take them all home. Luckily this place was a no kill shelter and it seemed pretty groovy so I know this dog will find a good home eventually.

Ice cream cake and magic bullets all around. Our summer Solstice pre-birthday birthday celebration was a good time. Also went sailing on lake Coeur d'alene.

Lucy's been taking digital photos. Check them out at

Going home to Mitch, Lucy, and Josie tomorrow. Then a whole new legion of minions start work next week...Summer rolls on.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Visiting the Home Country

Well I have abandoned my offspring to the humid high temps. and their more than able Dad in order to visit lovely Pullman, Washington for the weekend. It is my Dad's 66th birthday (and, as most of you know, my 36th birthday since we have the same birthday 30 years apart). It is lovely weather here in Pullman, in the 70's, and everything is very green. It is a good time of year to visit.

My brother came over from Seattle and I am enjoying hassling him immensely. I am trying to exert a year's worth of nagging and teasing into three days so you can see that it is quite a challenge. I am also trying to sort through years of accumulated crap that is stored at my Dad's house to help him make some more room for his and his wife Sue's stuff.

Looking through detritus from my childhood isn't that enjoyable, especially when I think about how am I going to fit any of this crap into my 900 square foot house (where we are currently trying to get rid of stuff) or our single car garage. But some of it is fun, like seeing old pictures of my grandma.

It is, of course, delightful to visit with my Dad and Sue and my brother Jeremy and Sue's son Corey. Tomorrow we might go sailing. I'm getting in a lot of cat petting since they have four cats and I'm getting some dog love too with their nice rottweiler mix Daisy.

More later from the exciting burg of Pullman, Wa.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Baby Love

I've never been a big baby person. Whatever. They're boring, look like little bald aliens, and often either spit up on you, yell at you, or poop near you. When Mitch and I started to think seriously about babies (planning but not yet pregnant), I started paying more attention to babies to check out what we were in store for. Even then, I found babies to be intellectually more interesting but still not emotionally appealing.

Having a baby changed all that. All other babies immediately became more interesting because they give me clues to how my babies are similar or different from other people. Kids older than Josie or Lucy give me clues to what my kids might become. Kids younger than Josie or Lucy remind me of what they used to be like. Not only are babies now fascinating to me but being a parent is an instant connection to millions of people with whom I would have no other connection (no other cultural, intellectual, or emotional connection). Mitch has thought a lot about this and I'm sure he will one day write a brilliant post about the parent connection phenomenon.

Yesterday at work I saw a working mom with her son (who looked like he was between 6 and 8 months old) at a cultural resources conference. She was listening at the back of the room while holding her son. Seeing the baby made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside ("yay! A baby!"). Seeing this working mom working hard to balance baby and work also made me think "you go girl.". Then I also saw a pregnant woman who is due in ten days at another work conference. And I thought, "oh, I'm done being pregnant. That makes me a little sad. No more tiny babies. No more babies kicking in my belly." That was WEIRD. I'm not a pregnant earth mother baby person at all. And now I have all these warm and fuzzy baby feelings and pregnant mom feelings. Where I am supposed to file all of that stuff?

One thought on why having a baby changed my own baby feelings: Part of it I think is that babies are connected to their parents in such a visceral way that that connection sort of bleeds over into every baby you see after your own baby is born. I think that connection changes as your kids get older and become more independent. So seeing babies takes me back to that symbiotic elemental phase of parenthood (some people might say parasitic phase...). Babies become a nostalgic experience.

Anyway, enough about babies. Suffice it to say that even though Josie is hardly an adult (she isn't even a year old for goodness sakes) and Lucy still has a ways to go before she is ready for college, I do still have a soft spot in my heart for their past tiny baby selves and all other babies in existence now that Josie and Lucy have unleashed my baby ju-ju. Watch out future mamas everywhere - the baby magic is very strong!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Dog Search Update

We miss our perfect family dog, Cleo, who died one year ago.
It turns out that Lucy hasn't missed much that's going on on the dog front.

A couple of things this week on the dog front. Yesterday morning Lucy, Josie, and I went to Lowes to buy some plants and rocks to convert the area next to our front door from a giant litter box to an attractive planting. While we were there, Lucy got into a conversation with the checker about her new pet dog - a lovely pink thing with giant eyes that sleeps, eats, and whimpers. The checker asked Lucy if that was her dog and Lucy said, "Our dog died." And then she goes, "But we're thinking about getting another one." Whoa - we haven't talked about Cleo's dying in several weeks if not months. And I thought Lucy hadn't even picked up on the fact that I was looking for another dog despite our two visits to the Humane Society a couple of weeks ago. Apparently she is fully aware of everything that goes on!

Anyway, since our retraction of our Briggs adoption application I went online and put in an application to a local lab rescue group, looking for a family dog that would be good with little kids and cats. Meanwhile I also went to the local Animal Regulation shelter and found what could be a good dog for us, a female lab mix. She seems like a good dog - submissive but not too scared, people oriented, and not too big. But I couldn't take her out to walk her around and check her out until two weeks go by. So on June 17th I'll go check her out with Lucy and if she does well, then we'll try going back to adopt her on the 23rd when I get back from visiting my dad. If someone else adopts her in the meantime then we'll have to find another dog.

The quest continues.

Movie Review: Charlie Wilson's War

Mitch and I watched Charlie Wilson's War on Friday night. I'm sure that everyone on earth who wants to has seen this already but we don't get out to movies much and typically wait until things are on DVD to watch them. (Before we had kids we thought we would be people who went out a lot after even after we had kids. The reality is that we didn't actually go out that much before we had kids and now that we have kids, it is hard to find babysitters and it is easier to watch movies at home where they are cheaper and where you can get up 50 times during the movie to make tea and eat chocolate...).

Anyway, the movie was really good. The acting was good (although Mitch thought Julia Roberts was distractingly bad - I didn't notice). The plot was really interesting. I have always wondered how the U.S. gets sucked into these covert operations where we support one group secretly against another group. I had always chalked up our support of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan simply to anti-communist fervor. The movie did a good job of showing how there were legitimate human rights reasons to be opposed to the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. They also did a great job of showing how simplistic our view of Afghanistan really was and how that kind of intervention can go wrong.

The most startling thing was that Charlie Wilson knew that the U.S. needed to do more to support Afghanistan after the Russians left but the Congress didn't have the political will to actually do anything about it once the Ruskies were gone. It made me wonder, how many times can we make the same stupid mistake over and over again??? Once a military "operation" is over, if you don't invest in the country and the people, it will bite you in the ass. We sort of learned after World War I but now we seem to have forgotten this lesson again. Afghanistan, Iraq war I, Iraq war now, the list goes on and on. Somehow the intentions are always good when we go in, guns blazing, but we never understand the full complexity and we always screw it up in the end. As Charlie Wilson says (I'm paraphrasing here), "We f*ck up the end game."

Why is that?


Lucy thought the frosting was the best part of her cupcakes

This Friday was Lucy's third birthday. It is hard to believe that she is already three. I still have lots of moments when I look at her and think, "Where did you come from? Who are you again?" I suppose that feeling goes away eventually. When your child has been around for thirty years or so you probably aren't surprised by their existence any longer. Knowing a person from birth does give me a whole new perspective on why parents think their kids are so great, even when many of them seem to be such idiots (as adults that is). When you knew someone when they couldn't even sit up, of course it seems miraculous that they can form entire sentences.

Celebrating the birthday of someone that you have actually given birth to also gives a new flavor to birthdays. Of course, I was present at my own birth but I can't say that I remember it. Lucy's birth, however, is etched into my memory. This year, Lucy actually likes hearing the g-rated version of her birth, over and over again. I left out the bloody bits, the heart rate decelerations, and how Mitch and I got into a small discussion about when we should go to the hospital. I left in the plunger to the head and the surprise of the nurse when she realized we were ready to have the baby (after being in the hospital about ten minutes). Lucy also picked up on the mid-wife and doctor bit and likes to say, "and then you called the midwife and the doctor." In some ways, Lucy's birthday is even more meaningful to me than my own because I was aware of the importance of her birth from the beginning. I only discovered how important my own birth was when I realized that it was an actual event that signaled my beginning and that the world existed without me before I was born (that was a disturbing realization...).

Jonas at Lucy's birthday party

Anyway, we had a nice weekend celebrating both Lucy's and her friend Jonas' birthdays. We had a party for Lucy on Friday at Marina Park. Lots of the kids got wet and sandy (including Lucy), we all ate pizza and cupcakes, and Lucy got showered with gifts. She was way into the presents and we almost had a mini-riot during the gift opening as all of the kids descended on the new toys, which, of course, Lucy had absolutely no interest in sharing. Luckily we were able to divert the incident by reading one of the gifts (a Richard Scarry book from Jack and Rowan) while we hid all the other gifts. All of the presents were awesome with three of Lucy's favorites being her new pink poodle dog that whines, opens and closes its eyes, and drinks from a bottle (don't ask) - thanks Dylan, Evan, Mary and Ryan, her new scooter from Grandpa Tom and Grandma Sue, and her dressing bunny from Grandma Jo and Grandpa Jim.

We have one day left in the weekend and I have about 20 loads of laundry to do. So I had better get to bed so I can get up in the morning with my zest for laundry intact. We sure are glad that Lucy is around and that she has successfully made it through another year with her physical being intact and her nutty personality getting even nuttier.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Weekend Update: Crab Rescue, Forward Motion, and Chihuahua Withdrawal

We had a good weekend here in Ventura. The weather was beautiful. The bioblitz went off without a hitch and we had a visit from our friend Jason. On Sunday, Lucy, Jason, Josie, and I went out for breakfast at a great local dive (Dukes) and then we went to Marina Park. One of the wonderful things about living in a beach town is that there are not one, but two playgrounds that are actually ON the beach. It is pretty friggin' awesome to be able to push your child on the swings while watching the waves roll in. Marina Park is one of these lovely spots. We can also watch Mitch and Rick sail by in our new 14 foot sailboat from Marina Park.

While swinging, sliding, and watching the waves, Lucy announced that she had to go to the potty. She and I hot-footed it across the grass, across the parking lot, and into the bathroom. After a successful potty trip, we started back towards the playground. While we were walking through the grass, several hundred yards from the beach, Lucy spotted a crab in the grass. It was about two and a half inches wide and was near a group of picnicking families. It looked like one of the kids might have carted it up from the beach. I thought it wouldn't do very well in the grass, surrounded by sea gulls. So after a few nasty claw attacks, Lucy and I got it loaded into my shoe and carried it back down to the ocean. Chalk up one crab rescue for us.

Josie, meanwhile, is fully mastering the art of crawling forward. She made her first forward motions on Saturday and is now crawling full speed towards any desired object like Lucy's new plastic golf clubs or any paper item that she can attempt to eat quickly before Mitch and I catch on and take it away from her. While the forward crawling has reduced the number of times that she gets stuck in a corner in a day, it hasn't eliminated her tendency to crawl under things like the coffee table and the rocking chair and then thwack herself on the head when she tries to sit up. Crawl on Josie.

I finally put a halt to our bid to adopt the little chihuahua mix. I was stressing out about the fact that he was a stray and hasn't been in a foster home so we have no idea whether he is house-trained, a barking fiend, or food aggressive. In the end, I found that I was dreading hearing from the rescue folks about whether they had picked us as the right family for Briggs or not. He still seems like a fine dog but in the end, I was too unsure of whether he was the right dog for us. Thus the search for the perfect family dog continues.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

BioBlitz Bedlam: We laughed, We cried, We Got Bitten By Wood Ants

It's already over! Our twenty-four hour species inventory of the Santa Monica Mountains, called a BioBlitz, came and went like the juggernaut of urban youth, plant counting, bug sweeping, and general milling about that it was. For now, the count is 1,364, although that number will continue to go up in the coming months as taxonomists identify currently unidentified specimens. That is more than twice the number of species that were found at Rock Creek Park last year, but who is competitive? The more important numbers I think, are 2200 and 6000. Those are the estimates of the number of school kids and people overall that visited the Santa Monica Mountains during the BioBlitz.

I personally worked 14 hours on Friday and thirteen hours on Saturday, but other people stayed ALL NIGHT LONG. What did we do? Well, I led five classes of third graders, high school students, and special needs boy scouts on inventory hikes, organized my staff of nine, helped design, set-up and staff three plant-related booths, gave a public talk on weeds, spent an efficient fifteen minutes orienting Jason to our new joint scientific endeavor, moved 232 native plants to Paramount Ranch from our nursery at Rancho Sierra Vista, sold said plants to the public, waited in line for an hour for a sandwich on Friday, and ate lunch with Lucy, Josie, Tyler, Chloe, Mitch and Sandy on Saturday.

What did other people do? Scientist led inventories. Rangers led inventory hikes for the public and school kids. Rangers took out trash, stocked water jugs, gave away water bottles and handkerchiefs, helped find lost children, moved goods, gave talks, entered data, and performed countless other tasks. Countless volunteers assisted with all of the above tasks. For more details, you can look here.

Here are four BioBlitz Highlights from Me:

1. Bring on the Ants. While leading a third grade inventory, poor Randy Philips had two of his group members bitten by unknown ants. A full blown panic ensued with kids screaming and general pandemonium. Randy took charge and got the kids into the idea of capturing some of the ants in their sweep nets and taking them to the scientist tent to be identified! What a stroke of genius! It turns out that it was the attack of the wood ants.

2. Is that a truffle? During Jason's inventory for fungi with a father and son inventory team, his team made an amazing discovery. Jason had just got the inventory started when...The son had found "something" while raking through leaf litter with his truffle fork. Jason came over to inspect, hopeful that it might be a truffle. Instead, both the father and Jason concluded that it was, in fact, human feces. A nice touch from the urban park-BioBlitz tally, one human crap.

3. A park is like your house, buying it is only the first step. I finally got to give my spiel about how a park is like a house and requires constant maintenance. This is my pitch to get people to volunteer to remove weeds and plant native plants in our parks. It is also my attempt to help people understand that buying parkland is only the first step in conservation. Our open spaces require constant vigilance ("diligence or degradation" as Cal-IPC says) if we want to preserve our native biodiversity. This was the first time that I got to give this speech in public. The audience was small (maybe 15 people), but I still got all choked up talking about our native plants and the threat that invasive species pose. It was a good moment.

4. Sweeping for bugs from a radio flyer wagon. I had the pleasure of leading Boyscout Troop 88, a group of special needs Boyscouts and their parents, on an inventory hike. We touched the fuzzy leaves of goldenbush and talked about hairy plants. We used our sweep nets to find ladybugs and leaf hoppers, sweeping from red wagons and wheelchairs. We found stink beetles and ants. We smelled sagebrush. We had a great time. The kids were great and the parents were amazing. I got teary-eyed when they took the Junior Ranger pledge at the end, vowing to protect the natural world. Maybe it was the lack of sleep, or maybe it was the enthusiasm in their little voices. As Troop 88 says in their motto, "Do Your Best"

And we did.