Saturday, March 21, 2009

Blessedness Chicken

From a plastic mug with a small chicken eating birthday cake on it that I bought in 2007 in China Town in San Francisco:

High incredible magic of the pretty chicken,
you too will be the best friend
like a lot of many people all over the world.

May you too feel the blessings of the Blessedness Chicken.

Sometimes my life isn't really how I think it is

I thought going to Mississippi without the girls would be revolutionary. Again I would be able to eat a long meal with lots of conversation. Again I would be able to go into stores without worrying about what the girls were going to break or when they would get bored. I would go to movies and go out to breakfast. And while the trip was wonderful, being able to do all of those things actually did not feel revolutionary at all. All of a sudden I realized that I had been able to do all of those things for 33 years before I had kids, so being able to do them again felt totally normal and not at all extraordinary.

It also made me realize that my feeling that my life is on a radically different trajectory now that I have kids and is completely dissimilar from my friends who don't have kids is actually NOT accurate. Really, instead of my life jumping on to a different track, I think really it is just moderately different and that as the girls get older and older, day to day living will get closer to how it was before I had kids - at least in terms of movies, stores, etc. Of course there will be all that help with homework and driving to soccer practice thrown in.

Most Excellent Time in Mississippi

I had a great time in Mississippi with Jason and Tiffany. I got to see a part of the country I had never been in before, met a few of Tiffany and Jason's Oxford buddies, had some great food, heard some excellent music, and generally had a good old time.

Here is a quick run down. Unfortunately it has been a week since I was there and a lot of the creative juices from the trip have already been thrown to the wind of every day existence. While in Oxford I was too busy living to be blogging and since then I've been too tired and busy with work to sit down with the computer. Here are a few of my thoughts that remain.

It was neat to see a new part of America, if only briefly. Oxford seems like a lovely university town and people are super friendly. Tiffany and Jason have made a lot of great friends and their department seems very nice.

In an homage to my mom who mainly wrote about food in her journals, let me say a little bit about the incredible food I had in Oxford. We ate a fabulous dinner at a neat local restaurant called Ravine. It is in a neat old house out in the country. We had an awesome beet and goat cheese salad, a fabulous appetizer plate thing, and an o.k. pasta and mushroom main dish. By the time the pasta came, I was already beyond satisfied with the experience so I having the pasta be only a couple of cuts above average rather than spectacular was no big deal. We also had a crazy good breakfast at Big Bad Breakfast. I had my bacon of the year and it was well worth it. The menu claimed that it was local, happy pig, pastured bacon but Tiffany ruined my parade by saying that that is only when it is available (I'm sure the pig I had was a happy pasture pig...). We had some other good stuff to eat (awesome salmon that Jason grilled), but those were the highlights.

We also went to a bunch of museums: The Mary Buie Museum, the Blues Museum, and the National Civil Rights Museum. They were all very interesting in their own ways. It was different to be in a place where the civil war had a major and obvious impact on the landscape. The civil rights museum was fascinating. It was so dense that we didn't get to see all of it in the time we had. It was located in the hotel where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed. A very powerfully moving spot.

Two last notes: it was fantastic to get that much time to just hang out with Tiffany and Jason. Thanks guys. We heard some great local blues music in Clarksdale at Ground Zero, Morgan Freeman's blues club. When you think Morgan Freeman's blues club, don't let your imagination run - it is a giant empty warehouse with the walls all written on with magic markers and the tables are card tables with folding metal chairs. The music was good though.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Brings it all back...

Today I am visiting Jason and Tiffany's lab at the University of Mississippi. Jason calls it the Species Interaction Lab because he has a big brain but really he mainly does crazy stuff with mycorrhizae. Tiff works on bugs and agriculture and complicated statistics. The lab is in a big old brick building that looks like it was designed in the 1950s (I'm sure it is older than that really). It totally reminds me of all the time I spent wreaking havoc in my dad's office building as a kid. The cinder block walls, the huge building, the lab spaces, the wheely chairs, the signs outside the labs and offices. I feel like I should be having rolly chair races in the hallway or riding the elevators up and down, up and down.

The other odd thing about actually seeing my friends as academics is it reminds me of this whole other life that I once thought I would lead. Having your own lab with graduate students and undergrads and an office... A long time ago I thought I would be an academic at a university. I like my current job and I wouldn't trade the work I do with all the different stuff and different people and little kids and plants and feeling like I'm making a difference (even if I'm not really) and being able to go home at the end of the day without any papers to grade - I wouldn't trade all of that for the stress of bringing in grants and grading papers and writing lectures and writing papers and publishing research.

But still, visiting a university where my friends are living the academic life is a very odd combination of a fast trip back in time to my youth as a kid of an academic and a side trip to another life where I was a professor with my own lab full of plants and people.

In Mississippi Sans Family

A couple of weeks ago Mitch went to Sacramento for a three-day weekend to visit our friends Mike and Scott. They had a good old time playing video games and doing other things that you can't do with a three year old like going to see things get blown up on the big screen. In exchange for my watching the girls solo while Mitch had his play date, Mitch offered to watch the girls while I went to Mississippi to visit Jason and Tiffany. It is kind of a raw deal for Mitch since I left for five days (he only went for three but I could only get cheap tickets if I left on a Thursday and came back on a Monday) and when I hung out with the girls it was an exciting mini-vacation only mom and the girls fiesta while for Mitch it will be the regular work schedule just more of it. So despite feeling guilty and like a slightly bad mom, I seized the chance and jumped on an airplane without a car seat, diaper bag, baby books, squeaky toys and only a single snack (one granola bar).

Many hours and two plane trips later I arrived in Memphis, Tennessee. I've never been to the south before so it is very exciting to be in a new place and get to see my friends. So far it has been pretty gray with a cold mist raining down. Most of the deciduous trees are without their leaves right now. I can tell that Oxford is most likely a spectacular place in the spring and summer with all of the big trees everywhere but it looks a little forlorn right now with all the clouds and naked branches.

There are lots of neat old houses, both wood and brick. So far I've mainly been on campus working on my government resume on-line while Tiffany finishes up administering an exam and Jason does the stuff that professors do (go to lab meetings, have lunch with people, sequence genes). I got to see Tiff and Jas's house which is super cute and very cozy. I slept through the night (how WEIRD) and got up and took a shower (also out of the ordinary for me). I'm looking forward to going to faulkner's house, checking out the local bookstores, going to eat breakfast in an actual restaurant, and going to see a movie in an actual movie theater.

I do miss the girls and Mitch but it sure was nice traveling as an adult. I spent the entire plane rides reading my book (not trying to keep my kids from flipping out) and everything I brought for the entire trip fit in a single backpack smaller than the one I typically leave the house with when going anywhere with the girls. So far it has been a lovely break from my already lovely parental existence.

No More Foreign Bodies

Unless Josie has recently eaten a puzzle piece or Lucy has stuffed a marble down her throat, Josie is now free of foreign bodies. Despite a slight snotty nose, Mitch took J.B. to UCLA and they took out her stint. (I got to take Lucy to swim lessons and school - the much better end of the deal). Mitch said that Josie did great except for 30 minutes of inconsolable screaming when she came out of the anesthesia. Now we just have one more month of antibiotics and an ultrasound to get through before we emerge from the kidney saga and enter into the six month monitoring phase where she just has to go to UCLA for an ultrasound every six months (for the next several years...).

Has your day soul met your night soul?

I'm an atheist by early training and an agnostic with a gut feeling that there is nothing beyond this mortal coil by inclination. Almost everyone I know is either religious or has some sort of loosey goosey spirituality. Which is all fine and good until your mom dies and then there is no one to talk to who really gets the true sense of loss and frustration and all the many layers of underlying and overlying thoughts and emotions that go along when someone you love dies and you really believe that they aren't around AT ALL any more (not out there somewhere or up there somewhere or part of your lawn or present in that kitten you found in the alley or whatever). Mitch tried really hard and he was a good listener, but someone who isn't afraid of death and has a general feeling that we are all connected couldn't really get on board the emphathy train on this one. The exception to this generalization is of course, my friend Allie, who is also in my boat of no mystical afterlife to go to when the shit hits the fan.

Anyway, point being that I don't really believe in the soul, at least not apart from the body. But I was reading this interesting novel, a mystery that takes place in Tibet under Chinese occupation, and one of the characters in the book says that everyone has two souls, a night soul and a day soul, and that the goal of life is to introduce your night soul to your day soul. In the context of the book the idea was that at night sometimes you believe things about yourself and reality that you are unwilling to invest in during the cold light of day. And that essential to being is to bring these two parts of your personality, soul, what have you, together.

The idea struck a chord because I have a night "soul" that doesn't meet my day "soul" and I do wish that they could meet and get along. My night person/thing/thoughts is all to aware of the fact that all existence is temporary and that I and everyone I love could die at any moment. When these thoughts occur to me (in the middle of the night) I get pretty freaked out and have to shove them down deep, deep, deep and think about something else so that I can go back to sleep. During the day I just try not to think about death at all.

I do think that it would be ideal to come to grips with the idea of death and dying and be able to acknowledge that reality without feeling like throwing up. Thus when I read this statement about night souls and day souls and the need for the to meet, I thought, "yes, I whole heartedly agree." Of course, that doesn't really bring me any closer to accepting the impermanence of all things...but there you are or I should say, there I am, an imperfect being still striving to get a grip on the nature of reality.


Lucy loves carrots which is good because carrots are one of the few vegetables she will eat. And, considering the combined optical acumen of her parents, she's going to need a lot of help in the vision department later on. So when we first planted our garden bed, we planted a bunch of carrot seeds in one of the squares. Well no carrots ever came up and that space got taken over by strawberries.

When I ripped out the tomatoes at the end of tomato season, Lucy and I again planted carrot seeds. This time around lots of carrot seedlings came up and every time we would go out the door Lucy and I would talk about the carrots and when they might be ready to eat. But then, once again, the carrots lost out. This time a bunch of tomato seedlings volunteered and took over the whole area. Lucy talks about this hostile take over as our carrots turning into tomatoes. Not quite right biologically but pretty reflective of the reality. So once again I ripped out the tomatoes (non-productive tomatoes this time since it has been too cold at night for fruits) and we found four poor little carrot seedlings struggling along under what had been the tomato forest.

Finally last weekend I let Lucy pull up two of the carrots and eat them. They were great!! They were cute little guys since I picked short varieties because I was unsure about the soil under the garden bed. Lucy was very excited and enjoyed chomping down on them. I have an adorable photo of her holding her carrot but you will have to wait until I am back in Ventura and can upload the photo. For now, suffice it to say that in the third go round, we finally produced four fine carrots.

The B Word

Before Josie was born I spent quite a bit of time thinking about what would be some good nicknames for her. Lucy has a lot of nicknames (Lucy Goosey, the goose, snugglebugs, Luce, Lu) and I didn't want Josie to feel left out right out of the gate. Both of the girls have outrageously long names (Lucile Linnea Brigham Allen and Josephine Jo Jacobson Allen) but we rarely ever call them by their full names (except when they are in trouble). Mitch kind of wanted to do the regular old one middle name for Josie rather than two like we did with Luce but I voted strongly in favor of equality in name length and complexity for both girls. Anyway you can see how with a name like Josephine Jo Jacobson Allen you might want to have a few good nicknames handy. We had already decided that we were going to call her Josie, but other than that good nicknames weren't really springing to mind (I'm not a huge fan of JJ or even triple J and even though my mom was called Jo and Josie has Jo in her name, I'm not super partial to Jo by itself either).

So long story long, right after Josie was born I started calling her Josephine the Bean or just bean for short. Then Bean got shortened to B so now B is one of my nicknames for Josie. Which, it turns out, is pretty darn prescient of me because B is one of Josie's favorite sounds and she now has a whole host of B words that she likes to say. Some of the B words fall into the traditional category (Baby, berry) but others are a bit more, shall we say, creative. Here for your edification, Josie translators everywhere, and for recorded history, is a list of some of Josie's B words.

Bup bup ketchup
bips chips
beepsack sleep sack
biwi fruit kiwi fruit

hmm now that I am sitting here I can only come up with these four. I'll add more later. There are a lot and they are funny. One of the odd things is that some traditional B words she doesn't use the b sound for (e.g., she calls bath time moth ming...) go figure.