Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

We had a lot of loot. There are no good photos of the orgy of opening, but this is our tiny tree under siege last night.

This year's note to Santa. Duchess included a take-away container, having been somewhat offended by Santa's leaving leftovers last year.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Photo dump (December)

First, the first day of the Advent calendars.

 Second, scenes from our very, very leisurely days this last week.

Duchess is into Nancy Drew right now. She bought herself a big "Diary of Nancy Drew" book that she's treating as sort of a reference while reading the books

Today we walked over to the home of Spruce and her family (whom both Duchess and Skipper adore) for lunch.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The most arduous thing I did today was work on a puzzle.

I'm having a vacation. Today I heaved up all 70 pounds of Duchess plus her book and sat on the couch for a while under a pile of girl, and then (after Skipper woke up from her nap) a pile of girls. I just sat there. I didn't multitask, or even task. It was lovely. I also ate cookies and satsumas until I felt faintly sick, and read trashy books. It was a great day. Tomorrow I may try going outside.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Half my life left to figure this out.

Every single year I have to confront the fact that I haven't yet gotten a grip on the holidays. I think some part of me still feels that the adults are taking care of all the details, so I don't have to bother.

I usually manage some stuff. I organized a very small donation drive for a domestic violence shelter in our community. We decorated. We made the traditional sugar cookies to eat while decorating.* This year, for the first time, we even got a tree! A live tree! It's two feet tall, and it lives in a 3-gallon pail filled with rocks and water, but it's a real tree! And we have a wreath that Duchess made and brought home from a craft party at the home of a friend whose florist grandmother was visiting. So our home looks WAY more Christmassy than every before. I'm also fairly prepared to cook some nice food over the holiday. And I have  presents ready for everybody who will be at my house on Christmas! All three of them!

The activity for which I am most prepared this holiday is the cookie exchange party we're attending tomorrow. This is a social event that might have been designed exactly for me - it's in the afternoon, it's brief, and it involves baking. I plan to bring three different kinds of cookies, all of which will be good.** If this was what the whole holiday entailed, I would be not exactly the Martha-Stewart-style queen of the season, but I would definitely be a reliable minister of some kind.

However, there's a whole lot of other stuff that I didn't get around to. This week, I discovered that it's prohibitively expensive to mail a present five business days before Christmas Day, so the package I sent will not be arriving until after Christmas, a week after almost half of the intended recipients of the gifts inside will have left the package's destination. That was a sad moment. But today was the day I really realized that yet again, I missed the holiday boat. Our mail today included three holiday cards from friends, and I realized that I had never even thought about holiday cards this year. At all. And I LOVE getting them, I really do. The classy ones with a brief message, the ones with all the adorable photos of your adorable kids, and the ones with long hand-written notes - I love them ALL. So maybe I'll send out Presidents' Day cards this year. Regardless, thank you all for your cards! I love them!

*Skipper, who is very interested in cooking and baking, was in charge of rolling the cookies in cinnamon sugar, so the cookies were completely brown. They tasted fine, though. Skipper is experienced enough with baking that when I assign her a bowl of ingredients to stir,  she asks gravely "Can this be over-mixed?"
** I've done a lot of baking, I've got some excellent equipment, and I have learned to use good ingredients. Cookie-making is one area of my life about which I remain fairly confident, even when Skipper is helping me out. 

Two notes about Duchess

She has expensive tastes. Today we all shared a sliver of expensive moldy goat cheese (which was on sale at our local fancy grocery store, and thus cost only a ton of money), and Duchess declared it to be her favorite food.

Also, a note to anybody who has recently received or will soon receive a thank-you note from Duchess: Cook and I were not permitted to review them. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The child is well.

To celebrate our first "Momma and Skipper and Duchess Day," we went to get Duchess a checkup. She is, as always, robustly, glowingly healthy, and rocking a 97th percentile height. (Her growth curves are a marvel to behold, a rising hymn to tall genes, a relatively healthy environment, and good nutrition.) As far as I can tell, the charts think she's going to be at least 5'10". The "8-11-year-old" version of the pre-checkup questionnaire offered the option to discuss a variety of topics with the doctor, and at Duchess's request, I circled "Puberty" on the form. The doctor gave Duchess a brief, age-appropriate speech about puberty, and asked if she had any questions. Duchess said she did not.

We took advantage of the opportunity to catch Skipper up on vaccinations, so she got two shots. She held still for them, earning herself hot cocoa with whipped cream afterward. (Duchess, who didn't get any shots, but explained that she got a very painful paper cut under her tongue from the disposable thermometer, also got cocoa.)  Then we went to Powell's to buy the book about puberty the doctor recommended to Duchess, a book that has already relieved Duchess of the alarming misapprehension that her breasts would arrive by growing to their full size abruptly overnight.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Dirt vs Snow

Today was my last day of work, and I shuttled the kids to their various jury-rigged childcare setups. Skipper went to the home of her preschool teacher, who was holding a "camp" for a few kids from the class, and we dropped Duchess off at the home of a friend with whom she was attending Zoo Camp* on our way. It was raining when we left the house, and was snowing pretty hard by the time we got to the friend's house. While we were waiting for the bus, Skipper watched the snow with interest.

Skipper: Is the snow falling everywhere?
Me: Around here, yup.
Skipper: Is it falling on dead people?
Me: No. Dead people are underground, or have already fallen apart and turned into dirt.
Skipper: Can they feel the snow?
Me: Dead people don't feel anything.
Skipper: Will I turn into dirt?
Me (possibly more emphatically than necessary): Yes. But not for a really long time.

I'm going to try posting more often over my break, since waiting a long time between posts doesn't actually seem to yield any interesting content. So you can look forward to many more transcriptions!

*They saw the controversial new baby elephant. There was uncontroversial delight.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


So! The kids are on break, officially. And I am leaving my job after this Tuesday. THIS TUESDAY. So I will also be on break, indefinitely. I feel great about this, in many ways, enormously relieved. In other ways, I'm feeling terrified. My biggest immediate issue is that I really, really, really don't want to take the kids out of childcare, because if I then get a job, they won't be able to get back in to their programs. Skipper confessed the other day that she likes everything about her preschool, except for one kid who hits her. I don't want to take her out of there. Duchess loves kung fu more than anything else in her day (and she loves pretty much everything in her days), and I don't want to take her out of there, either. We'll go on as we are for a little while, and then retrench. Essentially, I need a job in order to keep my kids in childcare.

My biggest long-term issue is my deep fear that I will never find another job. I'm going to try to ignore that for a few weeks, long enough to eat a lot of cookies, watch the kids revel in Christmas, and enjoy the tremendous pleasure of listening to Cook and Duchess play holiday songs on the piano. Life is sweet.

The time to talk about it.

After the shootings in Connecticut yesterday, I went to Duchess's school today to shelve books. (The part-time library assistant cannot keep up with the shelving on her own, and it's a very satisfying volunteer task.) The doors, which are usually unlocked between 8:30 and 6, were locked today, and the principal was working in the lobby, guarding the doors. The parents and staff with whom I spoke while I was there were very subdued and some were really upset.

Thursday night was the holiday singalong at the school, a much - beloved annual tradition. It was pretty great, without being unusual in any way, just a typical school event,  probably replicated more or less in schools across the country. The kids were grouped by age, and the tiny kindergarteners sang with enormous enthusiasm. All the kids, even the ones I don't like, were all lovely, full of life and joy.

I think everybody who ever reads this blog knows and shares most of my politics, and you all know how I feel about this. But all of my opinions about the urgent need for gun control and mental health supports are sharpened by my personal experience of my community school. Even a mediocre public school, with all its small humiliations, cruelties, and disappointments, is a place that is brimming with energy and hope and the relentless force of life in an absolutely non-ironic way. (Especially on the last day before the winter break.) Every time I visit the school I feel a little heartbroken by the ways life is going to crush some of these sparky, radiant kids, but today was the first time I felt heartbroken by the idea that somebody would take that life away entirely. So I'm feeling pretty angry about that, and flailing around a little bit to figure out what I can do. But mostly I'm feeling heartbroken.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Waltzing Machiavelli

Skipper has learned the fine art of malingering. Yesterday, Duchess stayed home from school sick.* Skipper was very jealous, and said this morning that she wanted to stay home. I said no. (It's a scheduled day off work for me, but I have lots of volunteering commitments, plus a grubby house and the prospect of a busy weekend.) She seemed very jaunty on the way to preschool, but she abruptly announced just before we got there that her stomach hurt, so I notified her teacher that Duchess had been sick, and that I was available to pick up Skipper if they thought she seemed legitimately sick. I dropped her off at 9, and they called me at 11:45 to say that Skipper was complaining of stomach-ache, and seemed lethargic - not participating in play, staring off into space. I got on a bus and retrieved her shortly thereafter from the preschool's office, where she was happily looking at books. It quickly became apparent that she is completely healthy and chipper, and on further questioning, she forthrightly admitted that she had been planning from the moment I dropped her off that she would finagle a pick-up before naptime. She even skipped lunch to add verisimilitude to her fake illness, counting on eating at home. Now she's running around the house (having refused to nap), singing nonsense songs and making an elaborate pretend-food feast to feed to me.

Sometimes, because Duchess is so large and articulate, and Skipper is so small and incoherent (not just in the clarity of her speech, but also in the content of her speech, which often seems to be made up of improvisational riffs), we think of Skipper as relatively babyish, somehow forgetting that she is a fully-formed, power-hungry person propelled by tremendous will, hampered by very little ethical drag. Underestimate her, and you'll find your afternoon plans suddenly including the pretend consumption of a lot of pretend food.

*This episode had a stressful launch - she complained of an aching stomach all morning, but we got all the way to school before she decided she needed to stay home (she was very pale, and hardly talking at all, which is a pretty dire indication of illness for Duchess, but she really, really wanted to go to school and kung fu), and then as we were walking very slowly home, with pauses for her to crouch and retch in the bushes, I called my office to tell them that I was home with a sick kid, and my boss promptly called back to tell me that was unacceptable and I had to attend a meeting that afternoon. So Cook, who has an understanding and flexible boss, had to cancel an important meeting he was supposed to run that afternoon, and come home. Duchess barfed twice and lay in bed all morning dozing or staring off into space, not talking AND not reading, which made me think she was probably going to die before dusk. But she turned the corner before noon, and was chatting and reading by the time I got home.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

I went to Duchess's parent-teacher conference yesterday. (I brought Spruce and O Blond as well as Duchess, which was confusing for the teacher, who asked ''are they all yours?'') The teacher thinks Duchess is ''an absolute joy to have in class.'' She had nothing but positive things to say, but my favorite thing she said is that when she asks the kids who they think they can '' sit with and be successful, '' almost all of them pick Duchess.

I don't think Duchess's academic experience is going to change, but at least I got to talk about my concerns about what the endless stupid worksheets are doing to Duchess's ability to tackle challenges.
I like the teacher, who seems to be working hard to serve all the kids to the extent she's able, given the constraints of curriculum, testing, and time. She's clearly frustrated by the constraints, and she's not exceptional, but it seems like she brings her all to the classroom every day. I certainly can't ask for more than that. And she likes my kid, which is a bonus.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bad babysitter

Today I'm off work, and in charge of Duchess, Spruce, and O Blond. They're happily playing Playmobil in the basement (thanks again for the loan, Rock Star Uncle!), and I'm catching up on lots of minor things I have to and want to do. I've been reading the NY Times, for one thing, and look! I found an article that gave me a new way to think about the "skills gap" and labor, employment, education, and job training in the United States!

Yesterday Duchess attended a "winter survival, stealth, and archery" camp. They were outdoors most of the time, and it rained relentlessly the entire time, but apparently she had fun,* and she's very excited about archery now and wants to do the "Archery Apprenticeship" program they offer

*While I can't think of a single time that Duchess has not enjoyed a day camp or class of any kind, I was concerned that the weather, and the jury-rigged weather-appropriate outfit we put together for her, might make for a milestone disappointment. It didn't. It might actually take adolescence to kill Duchess's joy in stuff like that.

The wolf family

We had a parent-teacher conference recently with Skipper's teacher, during which we expressed some concern about Skipper's social skills. Skipper is an observer, and needs to take a lot of time watching events unfold before she feels comfortable participating in them. She doesn't, however, appear to have the tools she needs (and wants) to enter an activity that's already in progress, unless she's explicitly invited. She's more comfortable saying no to engagement than trying to say yes. We asked the teachers to help her identify and try out ways to engage when she wants to. 

Her teacher didn't quite grasp what we wanted, I think, and it's kind of a big ask anyway for a preschool teacher who has a roomful of bonkers 4-year-olds to manage, without extra time for fine-tuning one kid's skills at the request of her helicopter parents, but she certainly grasped that we're concerned about Skipper's social skills.*  So she sent us this movie to reassure us that Skipper doesn't spend ALL her time alone, watching other kids play. This is Skipper and two of the kids she plays with the most - she organized them into a wolf family. I particularly like the part where she intimidates another kid out of the way. 

*Also, I really appreciate that Skipper's teachers all recognize that she is a watcher, and they honor that as a  legitimate way to approach the world. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Duchess's idea of a perfect birthday celebration:
Day One: Do "All About Me" presentation to whole class. (This would have been better if classmates paid better attention, but that's okay.)
Day Two: Actual birthday - receive several excellent presents, eat apple crisp for breakfast. Go to school, do Running Club, have mom join you for lunch. Attend kung fu after school, enjoy hilarious jokes with best kung fu friend. Eat cheeseburger, fries, and a giant soda at a fairly-fast food joint with family.
Day Three: Birthday "party" - go to science museum with a friend, attend an IMAX movie about dolphins, spend $10 at the museum store.
Day Four: Lunch at a cafe downtown with another friend before Lego Physics

And then! A whole week off school! It's the best birthday ever.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Birthday morning

Trying out the new tumbling mat

I forgot to post a photo from soccer!

I forgot to post a Halloween picture!

I present to you Artemis and the Garden Fairy. The Garden Fairy thought that Halloween is the best thing ever. (Wait till she grasps the full extent of Christmas.)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

joie de vivre with metaphors

Duchess turns 8 tomorrow. She's enormously happy. She's confident, joyful, and sure of her competence and success. She's just devouring her life right now. I don't really know what to make of it - I can't remember ever feeling the kind of vivid enthusiasm that just pours out of Duchess these days.* I occasionally wrestle with the vicious urge to burst her bubble (but I do fight that urge, I do), and more often I feel sad about her inevitable loss of this amazing faith in the world and in herself. It's a little frivolous to feel sad about the puncturing of her faith, when she's one of the luckiest people ever to be alive, and the thing that happens to kids, especially girls, as they approach adolescence and the confidence trickles away, isn't exactly a tragedy, being as she'll still be alive and not worrying about hunger and homelessness and violence. But it's still sad.

However, it's not actually about me and what I make of it. What it is is awesome. Between this developmental stage and her essential temperament, she'll try anything, and soak up as much as she can. She's open to new things, she's flexible about changing her mind, and she thinks everything is interesting. She'll talk to anybody, and she'll give anybody the benefit of the doubt. She's also ethical and sensitive to other people, and she's generous about laughing at anybody's jokes. She's a loyal friend and a conscientious student. Everything she does, she does largely - smiling, laughing, talking, crying, stomping, running, reading (no almost-eight-year-old in the history of the world has ever sprawled on a couch the way this one can). That's Duchess, on the cusp of her ninth year, cracking open the oystershell, seizing the day, gathering rosebuds, etc. She's a dazzling sight.

*I don't mean that she's particularly delightful to live with right now - she's snotty and whiny, she's loud and irritating, she occasionally throws ridiculous tantrums, and she's horrible to her sister (who is horrible right back) - but she does it all with zest. Even the tantrums seem awfully zesty.

What the future holds

Tonight Skipper announced her plans for the future. She's going to work at the South Pole, and she's going to eat pizza and cake every day, but no vegetables.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Brainwashing, phase 1

1. Duchess is taking a lego physics class on Sundays. She and her friend Spruce are the only girls in the 10-kid class. She complained on the first day that the boys only want to talk about "...stuff that's boring to me! All they want to talk about is the Millenium Falcon!"
2. Duchess is doing an "All About Me" presentation in class next week,* and has a big poster template to fill out. Under "When I grow up, I would like to be..." she wrote "engineer or architect"**

* Her teacher uses these one-time, 30-minute presentations in place of show and tell, and has scheduled them to correspond as closely as possible with each kid's birthday. Duchess, FYI, will turn eight next Friday.  Does that make you feel old?
**I believe this enthusiasm is directly related to my telling her that she should give any career that interests her a shot, but she should bear in mind that some careers (acting) are less likely to be lucrative than other careers (engineering). Duchess would prefer to be rich in the future. 

What we play on the tablet

Cook: Minecraft
Duchess: Angry Birds in Space
Me: Where's My Water
Skipper: random-ass preschool games*

I haven't played computer games in a long, long time - they seem like a waste of the time I don't seem to have -  but the tablet has changed that. Not only is it a great way to play games (right size, right speed), but I can take it on the bus, so I can play during time that can't really be spent usefully anyway. And there are some really great games out there, as it turns out.

*A few weeks ago, she was sitting on the floor with the tablet while I was doing housework, and she said "Mom, I need help!" and I stalled her. Eventually she said "Never mind, I solved my problem," and I didn't think about it again until I opened my email and found that she had made a $2 purchase of an app. I put a PIN on the system so she can't do that again; I'm fortunate it wasn't worse!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Elizabeth Warren! Tammy Baldwin!

Recent outfits

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Puzzle solved

Ever since I mistakenly declared Duchess to be an introvert, I've puzzled (mildly) over my own personality type. I have some introvert traits - a preference for staying home, aversion to conflict- and some extrovert traits - speaking before thinking, speaking and not listening, an inclination to multitask and make quick decisions.* I'm now reading a book** called Quiet:The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, and it just told me that I am an ambivert. So now I know. I haven't read very much of it yet, but I'm recommending it to all of you who are introverts.***

*Duchess is similar, I think. Cook is a classic introvert. Skipper is an unknown quantity.
*On the recommendation of Antarctic Uncle, who is also a classic introvert. He and Cook come from a long line of introverts.
***Which is a lot of you. I do love me some introverts.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Marine self-portrait

All the kids in Duchess's class have painted self-portraits and written a poem describing themselves. Here, for your edification, is an excerpt from Duchess's poem:

My brain is as full as the ocean.
My smile is like a blue whale's warm inside blubber.

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Skipper, who knows nothing of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet other than the stickers she got from the eye doctor, calls them Tuggy Bear and Peeker.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

I need a new recipe.

Do pumpkin seeds ever taste good?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Social intelligence

Today I spent some time at Duchess's school, volunteering, and having lunch with the kids. It was a pleasure to lunch with Duchess, who was pink-cheeked and cheerful after running 1.25 miles at recess, radiating happy confidence as she folded herself onto the bench next to her favorite running partner. It was fun for me to watch her navigate her social life. A kid across the table asked her "Duchess, are you a duck or a beaver?" (If you live in Oregon, you have to choose whether to affiliate with OSU or U of O. It's ridiculous. Half the kids in her class have parents who are alumni of one school or the other, and passions run high this time of year.) This is the sort of social situation that terrified me as a kid, because there's no safe answer, and I never had the social chops to finesse that sort of thing. Duchess looked at him calmly, and said, smiling slightly "I'm a platypus." (I was initially impressed by her wit, but I then realized that it must be the standard declaration of neutrality.) Then he said, "But which team do you LIKE?" and she waited a long beat, studying him consideringly, and said "I like your sweatshirt." (He was wearing a Portland Timbers sweatshirt.) And that was that. She never had to commit to a side, she expressed a shared allegiance with this kid without alienating anybody else, she gave him her full attention in a positive way while declining the opportunity to create drama. Even if she never learns one thing in the classroom, she's learning a lot.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

You guys. My kids are awful, especially when they're together. Help me. Tell me they're going tp be decent human beings some time in the near future. Tell me I'm not irreparably damaging them in some terrible way.

I'm telling myself that it's temporary, that they'll stop being terrible once our schedule slows down next week, or maybe when I come out of my own not-helpful slog. But I'm not sure. I think that my kids just have slightly dark hearts, like my own and that they just haven't yet learned the utilitarian value of extending kindness to every one in their lives. Truth be told, I am unkind* to them more often than I like to consider. It's so easy to abuse the privilege of familial love, particularly when your heart is just a little dark.

I guess it's reassuring that they usually behave kindly toward other people. And we'll just have to grumble and whine and yell a bit in our dark cave for a while until this phase passes and we can be kinder to each other.

*Not mean, usually, just ungenerous. I deploy cold looks, long lectures, and yelling.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Thinking positive

Looking back at photos from the beginning of the summer reminded me of an update I never mentioned. Skipper's eczema was brought almost entirely under control this summer by the judicious application of hydrocortisone (short-term) and ceramide-based lotion (ongoing). I feel stupid for not having brought out the big guns earlier, because those terrible, lingering, raw sores in the crooks of her arms healed up very quickly once we did. Periodically, she'll show me her elbow and say "Look! It's like a normal person's arm!" and I remember how grateful I am that she's not dealing with that any more.It's easy for me to concentrate on what's bad now, and forget what has improved...

Friday, October 19, 2012


Duchess took the screening test for Talented And Gifted services last week, along with every other second grader in the district.

This year I've been thinking more and more about her academic needs. Her first two years of school, she seemed to be learning so much useful non-academic stuff that I really didn't bother to worry about what was missing. Plus, Duchess is bright, and very teachable, but it's not like she's sitting in the back of the class reading Foucault or teaching herself Mandarin or anything. She's sitting in the back of the classroom giggling over fart jokes, gossiping over who's being mean to whom, and doing mostly solid but often sloppy academic work. She's curious and pays attention, but she's not burning with intellectual passion, and she shows no particularly strong aptitude for anything other than talking incessantly.

This year, though, I'm starting to feel itchy about her school experience. So much of what they're doing is hammering on language skills, which are Duchess's bread and butter, and it all seems awfully easy. She's acquiring knowledge* and that's good, but I don't see her acquiring a lot of skills. And because so much of school is easy for her, she's grooving deeper and deeper into the habit of thinking that if something is hard for her at school, it means she's Not Good At It. She's having very little experience of tackling a challenge and working through it to mastery, so whenever she runs up against a challenge, she gives up. That really bothers me.

I volunteer at the weekly Homework Club at her school, and the kids who participate are all struggling in various ways with their academic work. One kid with whom I often work seems to be a lovely person - friendly, pleasant, well-behaved - but she struggles so hard to grasp ideas that I find it almost impossible to help her. I nudge her along in small increments, which is the way I'm accustomed to tutoring, based on the assumption that at some point she'll make the jump across the remaining gap, but she never makes the jump. We get to the answer, but only because all the tiny increments added up, and it makes me crazy that I can't figure out how to help her meaningfully. I can't figure out if she's just straight-up really limited in her intellectual capacity, or if there's something else going on here. Working with her reminded me of an interesting article I read recently, about doctors prescribing ADHD drugs to kids who don't have ADHD, but who don't have the resources to improve their academic performances another way. It's like spending your dollars on research to develop new cures for cancer instead of on preventing cancer in the first place - a very American approach to solving a problem, and it's really, really sad. I would guess that Adderall would make my frustrating Homework Club kid at least somewhat more likely to be able to grasp and master new skills, and since her academic experience isn't going to improve any other way, why not?

I imagine what it would be like to have Duchess in a class alongside this kid, and trying to teach them both. I don't know how you even begin to do that, but I can tell you that neither kid is being particularly well-served right now.** And while I'm looking into the kinds of services TAG-identified kids can get***, I'm also thinking about what it costs a school district to serve kids who are ahead of the game or who have potential to be really ahead of the game, and what those services cost the kids who are behind the game. I haven't yet heard any good solutions. And I have all sorts of cascading ethical questions, too, like what does it mean for the community as a whole if we decide to pursue transferring Duchess to a magnet school?**** What if every kid who was bright and/or advantaged transferred out of Duchess's school?

Then I remember that kids extract from life all sorts of things you don't expect, and fail to even notice some of the stuff you expect them to pounce on. Duchess is learning a lot, and so am I.We'll figure out some kind of jury-rigged solution for her, and continue to try to contribute to efforts to retrofit a system that serves every kid.

In other academia-related news, today I taught Skipper a few things about trees, and then felt very proud a few hours later when she shouted "Mom, that tree is DECIDUOUS!" She may stand around in public picking her nose with two fingers, but the kid knows her conifers.

*For example, one of the books in her book box now is about Area 51. She has many theories about aliens. For example, it's silly to think that aliens would inject people with anything, because how would they know about human biology?
**  I do not mean to disparage teachers here. I don't think it's possible, when you're teaching 28 kids by yourself, to meet all their needs, even if you're some kind of superhero.
*** While remembering that Duchess isn't necessarily going to be TAG-identified, because she isn't, in fact, a genius. And being TAG-identified in Portland doesn't actually mean you get any services - it just means that the teacher has to come up with a plan to meet your needs, which, depending on the teacher's interest level, could mean a little or a lot.
**** It's also worth noting here that one of my biggest objections to having Duchess attend a magnet school is that it would be a pain in the ass to get her there every day. Ethics, schmethics - I'm just lazy.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The art of negotiation

O Blond and Spruce are here today, because it's a school inservice day, and the four kids, after an hour or so of happy play, came to an impasse. The girls wanted to play House, and O wanted (according to Duchess) to play something loud and rowdy, like Avalanche. I left them to it, and five minutes later, they started playing a game in which the girls are a family in a house... A house occupied by a NINJA GHOST!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I want you all to know that the leafy pile behind sleeping Skipper is the yard waste compost.

Monday, October 8, 2012

I am still here.

There's nothing particularly interesting going on, but life has been busy, and I have been struggling with my work situation. I've been avoiding mentioning it here because it's, you know, public (and I'm not going into details now), but it's been taking a toll on my mental health. Which I also wasn't going to mention because I of course want everyone to think my life is at least closer to peachy keen than it actually is, plus it's definitely a classic first world problem and it's just embarrassing to be so stressed out by a job that pays pretty well, gives me lots of flexibility, and is related to my education and interests.

But then I remembered how I secretly love reading about other people's problems, so I figured I might as well come clean. So there you go. My life is making me crazy right now, which is why I haven't been posting much. I'm tied up in anxious knots, and way too self - absorbed to pay attention to, let alone be nice to, other people, including my poor kids.

However, everything ELSE is fine, for real. The kids, in spite of having a psycho mom, are doing really well. Cook is piling up professional successes (though he is very sad about failing to paint the whole house perfectly). The weather has been eerily gorgeous. Today Skipper (home with me and Duchess because we are sick), actually took her nap in the yard.

Also, I have a marvelous new toy, a small tablet on which I am typing RIGHT NOW. (I'm using a spooky typing prediction app that reads my mind.)

So things aren't so bad. And just like I know it will rain soon, I know I'll work out a way to live with my work issues.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

I wish I had an orchestra of my very own.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Cognitive exhaustion

One of the things that really bothers me about Mitt Romney (and George Bush, way back when) is that he clearly has absolutely no idea what it's like to be poor. He has never, ever, ever felt the kind of anxiety you feel when you have no safety net for your life. I liked this Wonkblog post about Romney's perspective on personal responsibility, which reminded me of my bus commute. I ride the bus with a lot of people who are much, much worse off than I am and one of the things I have learned from that experience is that yes, "the poor use up an enormous amount of their mental energy just getting by." It's insanely hard, being poor. The people on whom I eavesdrop on the bus have to do a tremendous amount of organizing, negotiation, and maneuvering, just to get through their days. 

I can see how easy it is to dismiss poor people as lazy, stupid, or irresponsible. I hear people on the bus talking all the time about bad situations they are in, or trying to solve, or trying to help somebody else solve, and they sound awful. Sometimes the situations they are navigating involve making terrible choices, like leaving your kids in the care of a person you don't trust at all, or taking up with a boyfriend who treats you like absolute shit. Those choices, though, often are the best one that they can make at the time, given their circumstances. The scary babysitter is free, which is all you can afford. The boyfriend comes with a place to live. I'm sure that many of these people, like many people everywhere, are stupid or lazy or irresponsible in some ways. But I recognize that they are under the crushing, unrelenting stress of trying to tiptoe (or sprint) across the wobbly, jury-rigged structure of their life every day without shaking something loose. Something shakes loose all the time - a babysitter gets arrested, a boyfriend leaves when rent is due, a job is lost, a car breaks down, a bus doesn't show up - and there's never anything left to try to shore up or improve that structure, because you're just trying not to be buried in the rubble. I think it's astonishing that anybody escapes poverty. I'm absolutely sure that if I was living like that, I would perform pretty badly. I doubt Mitt Romney would perform terribly well, either. I'm confident he wouldn't be rich now if he had been born poor.

Mitt and I have lived our lives in a cozy, safe place, where any entrepreneurial, "maker"-type risks we might take are cushioned by a net of family and social resources. It's easy to improve your life when it's already easy, and it's easy to believe that you are an impressive, success-worthy person when you can bring all your mental resources to bear on improving your life, instead of just surviving. I went to an East Coast boarding school, so I spent a lot of my adolescence in the company of people* like Mitt and George W., people for whom success came easily because of all the resources behind them. I don't think any of them realized that their success wasn't entirely, or sometimes at ALL, merit-based. (Lots of them went into finance, as it happens.) 

I don't think the country should have a president who can't even begin to imagine what it's like being poor, and who believes that if you're poor, it's because of your personal failure. 

* I'd like to note that my friends from high school are great people. I'm not talking about them, or the many other people at my high school who didn't take success or good fortune for granted. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sometimes, it all falls into place.

Sometimes I feel like my life is perfect. Tonight, Cook took Dutch to soccer, leaving me and Skipper at home from 5 to 7:30. In theory, I could have prepared a nice meal, eaten it with Skipper while having pleasant bonding conversation, and put her to bed before Cook and Dutch got home. In practice, I decided to give her a haircut, put her in front of the laptop, and let her watch TV while I cut. This wasn't a great decision, and set us up for a delayed dinnertime, but it was great. At the moment, I truly couldn't think of anything I'd rather be doing than hacking haphazardly at my kid's hair while she provided color commentary* for Danny McAskill movies.

Honestly, I was perfectly happy.

I had a lot of moments like that today. I moved wood chips around at Skipper's preschool for a while (working on fulfilling the "parent work hours" requirement), and enjoyed the vast and beautifully-managed garden filled with delightful things like amaranth, muskmelon, tomatillos, and some sort of "Andean tuber." I biked home with Skipper and a big package of toilet paper in the trailer, and it was sunny and beautiful, and Skipper was singing. I picked a lot of tomatoes. It was a nice day. I'm pretty lucky.

Anyway, this is Skipper's haircut. It's very lopsided - I love the left side (her left) so much that I can't bring myself to cut it shorter to match the terrible right side. She was watching "The Voice," which she thought was excruciatingly boring.

* "Wow! Mom, he's balancing on one wheel! Mom, I bet he had to practice a lot! Wow! I probably can't do that! Oh, he jumped!"

Friday, September 14, 2012

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

New Glasses

Friday, September 7, 2012

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

First day of school!

Today was Duchess's first day of second grade. I feel pretty confident that she'll cruise through the year again; she had a few butterflies on the way there, but otherwise slipped right back into school like a comfortable sweater.She also had her first day of her after-school kung fu program (which, you may recall, picks her up at school and whisks her off to the studio for a snack/socializing break and then an hour of martial arts instruction), immediately followed by a 2-mile walk to soccer practice, an hour of soccer, and a 2-mile walk home. We're all waiting to see how her over-subscribed fall works out. For somebody like Duchess, constant physical and social activity might turn out to be kind of perfect. However, she's already concerned that she won't have enough lying-on-the-couch-and-reading-books time. (To make matters worse, I'm making her fill her Skipper-free hour every morning with piano practice, lunch preparation, and breakfast dishes.)* Apparently, her designated "book basket" at school, intended for her use during reading breaks,  has only picture books in it. Picture books! Oh, the humanity.**

*Breakfast dishes! I love this.
** I just looked this quote up (actually, first I asked Cook, who knew exactly where it came from, because he's like the internet but only for old things), and then I felt kind of bad jokingly comparing the Hindenburg disaster to my daughter's irritation at being deprived of chapter books. Then I thought "Eh, whatever" and I decided to leave it in. Because if you can't trivialize disasters by offhandedly comparing them to your petty personal life, that's just UN-AMERICAN!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Skipper started at a new preschool today, again. It seems good. I'm reserving judgment. But I will say that the outdoor space is gorgeous, the indoor space is nice, the administration is organized (possibly too much, though the last place took disorganization to an impressive extreme, which is part of the reason why we left), the teachers are nice, the curriculum seems solid...  Skipper's teachers are ALL adorable. I want to take them all home with us. Skipper cried when Cook left her there, of course, but when I picked her up, she was downright cheerful, and one of the adorable teachers told me she'd had a good day. She brought home some herbs from their enormous garden where they grow half their food. When I brought her home, she insisted on doing some stuff by herself that she normally wants help for. I figure that's a good sign. Right?

Tomorrow is Duchess's first day of school, and I have to go back to work after two weeks off (which I really don't want to do). It's a big week for all of us.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


Skipper had her second eye exam today, which went much, much more smoothly than her first eye exam.* Her compliance earned her a bribe of hot cocoa with whipped cream. Unfortunately, she also earned herself a pair of glasses, and a diagnosis of farsightedness, a little tiny bit of amblyopia, AND astigmatism in both eyes.** Dang.

Public Service Message Time! All you parents of young children, take note that it is apparently a good idea to schedule your kid's first eye exam around the age of 3. I did not know that; we only did it for Skipper because of Duchess's amblyopia (which has some kind of genetic component, and Cook had it, too). If Duchess had perfect vision, Skipper's kind-of-crappy vision would have gone under the radar for at least two more years, and probably longer. Supposedly the early diagnosis helps prevent further vision problems. I wasn't feeling so great about it, though, as I grimly watched Skipper try on her new frames, and considered what it's going to be like getting her to keep them on every day all day.*** Happily, Skipper thinks that wearing glasses is what big kids do, so she's pretty chipper about the prospect, so far.

*It pales in comparison to the Horrific Phlebotomy Experience of 2012, but it was bad. Dilating eye drops and an uncompliant toddler are a really terrible combination.
** Her kind-of-crappy vision was noticeable immediately during the exam. Duchess and I exchanged horrified glances as Skipper mis-identified pictures at alarmingly large sizes.
*** The glasses guy asked me if I wanted the warranty, and I said (grimly) "YES." There's another Public Service Message for you - in my vast experience, even a relatively careful child will absolutely trash their glasses in a month, given half a chance.

Monday, August 27, 2012

New skills

 Our end-of-summer vacation trip was delightful. The highlight of the trip was a 2-night camp-out at a mountain lake in Central Oregon. It was beautiful, and of course I took no photos of the scenery. What I do have is photos of the chilly morning.

And of the canoeing and kayaking. We got to our campsite by water, which was exciting. The next day, we all did some boating. Duchess and Cook both tried out the single-seater whitewater canoe (Duchess had her teacher on-board), and Cook took Skipper for a ride in the kayak.

I really didn't take anywhere near as many photos as this outing deserved. The lake was beautiful, the weather was perfect, the novelty of boating and camping was terrific fun, the food was delicious, our hosts were wonderful, and it was just an all-around rip-roaring success. Skipper was impressively resilient about all the challenges and transitions, and kept repeating jauntily "This is so fun!" until we began to wonder if maybe she had experienced some kind of personality reversal during the drive out. Duchess had a few of what Cook calls "whinesplosions" but also had a fabulous time. The usual camping challenges (cold, dirt, uncomfortable sleeping quarters, lack of a bathroom,  etc.) spiced everything up. The girls both mastered the art of peeing on the ground (without peeing on your pants, your shoes, or the person assisting you), and we learned the hard way that Duchess's sleeping bag isn't really warm enough for camping.* It was perfect.

And now it's time to get back to real life. We have one last relatively unscheduled week before school/preschool starts next week, and we plan to eat a lot of tomatoes and ice cream. Duchess found out that she was assigned the teacher she wanted* but that most of her favorite kids are in the other teacher's class. That's the news!

*Last year she got the teacher she was afraid of, and quickly came around to adoring her.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Still not dead.

Sooo... I really don't have anything to write about. But I thought I should show up here.

Duchess is ready ready ready for school. She's seen some of her classmates at various social events in the last week or so, and she was thrilled. And I think she's getting a little tired of me and Skipper. (I am a little tired of myself and Skipper, too, so I'm sympathetic.) Oh, and she likes soccer.

Skipper is getting very worried about her new preschool. At random moments during the day, she wants to talk about how sad she is to say goodbye to her friends, and how nervous she is about going to her new school. She's climbing over a mountain of anxiety to get through this newest transition. She is also very happy right now, though, because she's going to get her bribe/incentive tomorrow rewarding her for 20 nights of having put herself to sleep and slept through the night in her own bed, without hollering for anybody.* A low bar, yes, but it's absolutely worth the purchase of a bribe (a baby doll, of course, to add to Skipper's large  team of pretend nurturees, currently starring a blue elephant named Elfy and a naked thrift store baby named Donner) to speed up our return to the world of Sleeping Through The Night Every Single Goddamn Night.** And I'm really loving that world.

But we're going on vacation! Hurrah!

* Except to attend her in the bathroom. I'm the privy counsellor, which is fine, as long as I get to go back to sleep
** We should have had a French baby. They sleep through the night, you see, due to all the superior French parenting they get. Stupid American-issue babies.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Summer is almost over.

School supplies have been purchased. (In second grade, apparently, one uses approximately half as many glue sticks as in first grade. The number of glue sticks one needs may be directly correlated with one's academic sophistication.)

Tomatoes are ripening.

Skipper had her last day at her preschool today. She's starting at a new one in September, because the poor kid ALWAYS goes to a new school in the fall.

Duchess has her first soccer practice on Monday. Summer swim lessons are over.

Everybody is racing to get their camping trips/barbecues/pool parties in! Hurry! Have you gotten all your summer done yet?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

We're not dead.

All is well. We've had lots of wonderful visitors, and the weather has been very tomato-friendly.

The painting continues.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Saturday, August 4, 2012


Today was the hottest day in Portland since the little heat wave during Skipper's infancy in 2009 that is burned into my memory. It was hot.

Cook, because he is reaching Ahab-level obsession with home improvement jobs, spent the blazingly hot afternoon  washing, scraping, painting, and repairing various parts of the exterior of the house. At one point I came out and found him wielding the clippers in a demented frenzy, trimming away branches and prickly plants at the overgrown, little-visited northwest corner of the house so that he could get to a crumbling corner of the roof before his magic (toxic) wood-preserving potion hardened up and became unusable. I backed away slowly.

Duchess is still vacationing in balmy coastal California, so she didn't get to enjoy the heat. Skipper seemed kind of sluggish and off her stride all day, and by the time she fell asleep for a second nap at 5:30 PM, we had finally cottoned on to the fact that she's sick. The poor kid even managed to fire up a fever on the hottest day in three years.

Dear Malaysian engineer leaving Portland for Hong Kong last Thursday:

Thanks for being nice (but not creepily nice) to my kid, who was flying alone for the first time. I'm sure you weren't planning on sitting next to a very talkative, unsupervised 7-year-old for three hours at the very beginning of your long trip, but it sounds like you were very kind about it. She really liked it when the pilot was delayed and you joked that maybe SHE should fly the plane, since she had been given an honorary wings pin by the flight attendant. I am grateful. While I'm at it, thanks to the flight attendants, too, and everybody who sat adjacent to Duchess and was nice to her.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Unbased slander

It turns out there were other photos of camp, so I take back my disappointment in Cook's picture-taking efforts. However, they weren't very exciting, so I'm not sharing them with you. Here, though, are two pictures of Skipper in the morning, before Duchess came home and punctured her only-child bubble.