Sunday, December 31, 2006


In some ways, I feel that I've made all of the resolutions I needed to in the past couple weeks. First, I set out some small changes I would make in order to move towards living more harmoniously with the environment (and my principles). Then I crafted a few lists of goals for next year, next school-year, and 3 and 10 years from now.

A few of the comments complimented me for my impressive planning. Yet, if there's one thing I know, the best way of guaranteeing that life will throw me a curveball is to write down my hopes. This is not me being a pessimist or downer, just my experience. And it's not always a bad thing. Such as the list-changer I'm pondering right now.

One of my goals for the end of next school-year was "Move with my family to our favorite area of the US." It's a very specific part of a very specific state that has several things going for it:
  • several colleges and universities in an area that is a mix of rural and small urban--we don't really like big cities.
  • the different educational institutions bring in a lot of art and other culture, including opportunities for all ages to participate
  • lots of accessible nature--woods, rivers, lakes, trails, parks
  • very liberal politics, including state recognition of our family and all state benefits available to married couples
  • lower cost-of-living than places we've recently lived--we could make a downpayment of less than half our savings and have an amazingly low mortgage payment
  • we might be able to swing it where one of us would work only part-time
  • we would be living fairly close (within 2 hours) of several of my extended family members

And then, what started as a very off-handed remark by my in-laws has created a possible fork in the road. My in-laws have been making generous contributions to a local college and, as a result, are friends with the chair of the board of directors. So should I desire the chance to a pursue a position there, I'd be assured a serious look. And now I find myself considering two new lists:
  • we would be living very close to Scooter's grandparents, something we've wanted but always figured wouldn't work out
  • the college where I might work is non-traditional and would play to the fact that I have a wide range of interests
  • I might be able to get a tenure-track job before even finishing my dissertation
  • the focus on my job would be teaching over research, which is what I would prefer
  • this area has a lot of art and culture
  • we would likely have to stretch ourselves to afford a house we'd want, even with both of us working full-time
  • most of the public schools here are very weak--the options would be spending even more on a house in a good district, finding the money for private school, or moving 45-60 minutes away to where there are good schools (but creating a longer commute for me)
  • while there's no law specifically against gay marriage in this state, there's no legal support for it either--things could easily change, though they're unlikely to get bad enough that the wills and other legal documents we have already drawn up would be voided (like Virigina's tried to do recently)
  • a different climate than we'd have in our favorite place--dryer, fewer trees, less water
It's hard to underemphasize the draw of the first point, being close to my in-laws. We've lived pretty much without nearby family support since before Scooter was born. It would be nice to have a built-in network of support. And as Scooter's grandparents get older, we would like to be nearby to help them.

So I will begin putting together a dossier for the college. We are already scanning rental and real estate listings. The school district is bookmarked so that we can keep an eye the elementary schools. No decisions, no committments. Just staring at the fork in the road, dithering over which way to go.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Let it snow!

When I would tell people where I was headed for the holidays (a more southern destination in the States), they invariably said, "So at least you'll be warm." To which I would reply, "Actually, it gets pretty cold there, but at least we'll have sun." And as we got closer to our trip and saw the weather predictions, "We're more likely to have a white Christmas there than Toronto is."

We got our white Christmas! The snow was a foot or so deep by the time we got to the house. It melted a little bit before the holiday, but enough was left to create the desired white blanket.

A few days after Christmas, we intently watched the weather again. The other visitors were supposed to head home, and there was the threat of another snowstorm for Thursday, the day of their flights. But it held off for long enough that they had no trouble getting out. It snowed gently for part of Thursday, occasionally getting heavy, but the ground was still warm enough that it was hours before the snow started to stick. We managed to get around that day--doctor's appointment for Trillian, grocery store for food and the D batteries we kept forgetting (for a toy, of course).

But it kept snowing. And snowing. All night long, into the morning. When we woke up, we had at least another foot. The snow paused for a little bit mid-morning, but then started up again. Most of the time with enormous, fluffy flakes. Gorgeous to watch, but unending.

At some point around noon, I thought to myself, "The last time I saw this much snow was the winter before Scooter was born." We were easily at two feet (both that winter and yesterday afternoon). But the snow kept coming. As the sun set, the flakes got smaller and finer, but it still fell.

This morning? It's still snowing. We have at least 3 feet. The birdbath and bench are practically covered. Just the lip of the birdbath pokes out, and it is also visible because of the couple of feet of snow on top of it. The bench is a hump in the snow, its back barely visible from one side where the snow hasn't settled.

The end time for this storm keeps getting moved back. Thursday night, early Friday morning, Saturday at 6 am, Sunday at 5 am. Officially, we are supposed to head home tomorrow morning, as in leave the in-laws' at 6 am. Given that all of the highways in the area are closed and the airport is barely operating, I suspect we'll be here a bit longer.

The fire's roaring, we've got leftovers galore, I've got everything I need to study. Let it snow!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Vignettes from family time

This is the first year that Scooter has understood about Santa, and he was exceedingly excited Christmas Eve. He insisted on taking to bed all of his Thomas the Tank Engine Lego trains (that's the set we have at Grandma and Grandpa's), along with the brand new Cranky the Crane he had just opened--Santa made an early stop just to leave that for him. He was up until at least 11, and I'm not entirely sure he was asleep when we headed to bed.

Santa kindly left many of Scooter's gifts unwrapped so that he could dive right in when he woke up. He was especially fond of the Buzz Lightyear MegaBloks spaceship and the Hot Wheels tracks. His stocking also gave up some treasures, particularly some wind-up Thomas trains and a Lizzie from the movie Cars--she's a second-tier character, so we just hadn't found any others.

I didn't ask for much and so I got both of the books/sets I asked for: Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century, which will simultaneously make me feel like I'm not doing enough again and give me ideas for small changes I can make, and The Morning Star boxed set, Nick Bantock's second Griffin and Sabine trilogy (which I devoured Christmas morning). The in-laws also gave us a webcam so that they can see their grandchild more often; not really a surprising gift, given that we also got a digital camera and videocamera from them for various Christmases, so that they could see him more often.

The day after Christmas, Trillian and I decided to take advantage of the willing babysitters and headed into town for a nice lunch. Trillian's brother drove us in since he was going to have lunch with their dad. Trillian and I walked around the downtown area for a while, discovering that the two or three restaurants we'd thought about trying were either not open for lunch or closed for the day. We ended up back near her father's office and had a wonderful meal at a small Italian restaurant, including tiramisu and cannoli for dessert. We took a nice stroll afterwards to work off some of the calories and eventually met up with the rest of the family at the local bank--they have a huge model train display every Christmastime, and Scooter had been talking about it ever since he first saw it last year. He spent over an hour watching them and was still upset when we told him it was time to go.

We had heard from Trillian's brother that he and their mother had some trouble figuring out Scooter's carseat. We got the full story at dinner. Apparently uncle and grandmother had been sitting on either side of Scooter, trying to figure out what to do. Scooter was cracking up over their trouble and, at one point, turned to Trillian's brother and said, "Unca W., do you need some help?" The funniest moment in the retelling occurred when uncle said, "The hardest part was getting his boot through that loop." Trillian and I looked at each other and said in unison, "What loop?" and laughed even harder. We're still not sure exactly what the configuration was, but they assured us that he wouldn't have budged if they'd been in an accident.

Trillian and I took off again today and saw a movie, The Holiday. Pretty standard as far as romantic comedies go, but I always enjoy Kate Winslet and sometimes it's nice to see some brain candy. Makes me want to move off to a cottage outside of London.

We have a few more days left here and, depending on the weather, will have a quieter time as uncle and great-grandmother head home. Scooter is loving the attention. His conversation has improved an amazing amount in the week we've been here. I found myself just marvelling at him as we opened some late-arriving gifts this afternoon. It's very hard to make myself work on my paper and studying when I would rather be basking in the family time.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas

In the spirit of Christmas Eve, I tag myself for the meme that’s been going around.

Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate?

Hot Chocolate. Preferably organic, fair trade, very dark cocoa. Then I can feel good because I’m helping the environment, workers in third-world countries, and my cholesterol.

Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?

Santa used to always wrap the presents, every single one. Since Scooter’s arrival (and with him an explosion in the number of gifts), Santa wraps all of the adults’ gifts and about half of Scooter’s. The rest get placed under the tree, sometimes out of their packaging so that Scooter has something to play with while waiting for the slowpoke adults to unwrap their gifts.

Colored lights or white?

White. Because that’s what’s pre-strung on the in-laws’ artificial tree. I think that my absolute favorite on a tree are blue.

Do you hang mistletoe?

No. We never had it when I was a kid, mostly because we always had pets around. And I had never thought to get some fake mistletoe until I read it on someone else’s response. Next year.

What is your favorite holiday dish?

I love green bean casserole. And always wonder why I don’t make it more often. I also enjoy a good cranberry sauce.

Holiday memory as a child:

At the toe of our stockings, my mom always put a tangerine. This was something that came from her childhood. And, as she would say, it fit perfectly into that spot.

When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?

I think I was about 7. My parents decided I was too old for it and told me quite insistently. They had never done anything to encourage me to believe in Santa, and our gifts were always marked as being from a specific person, but I still believed in the magic. I didn’t want to accept what they said, and it was complicated by the fact that I had a gift under the tree from Santa that year. I suspect it was from one of my aunts and that my parents hadn’t noticed what she’d written.

Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?

No. Though I was insanely jealous when I found out I had friends whose families did that. Now I like the excitement of waiting until that last moment.

How do you decorate your Christmas Tree?

Since it’s my in-laws’ tree, we use their ornaments, which range from antiques to fancy and new to ratty homemade ones. The tree is pretty well covered, not necessarily balanced, but I love hearing all of the stories that go with them.

Snow! Love it or Dread it?

Mostly love it. The Christmas before Scooter was born, we hosted several members of Trillian’s family (mother, father, brother, one of her grandmothers) since I was in my third trimester. A day or two before Christmas, Trillian and I went to a baby store with her mother and grandmother because they wanted to buy our crib and glider rocker for us. As we got to the shopping center, it started to snow. Trillian’s mother loves white Christmases, but hadn’t had one in years since she lived in a warm climate. We had flurries for the rest of the day with a few inches of accumulation, and it lasted through Christmas. It was absolutely gorgeous and made Trillian’s mom so happy. (Then of course, we got 2 feet of snow during my eighth month and Trillian was worried I would go into labor and we wouldn’t be able to get to the hospital.)

Can you ice skate?

No. I have never even tried. I feel a bit heretical admitting that now that I live in Canada.

Do you remember your favorite gift?

I remember various gifts, though not many from my childhood. And while I appreciated most of them and have gotten a lot of use out of them, those aren’t my favorite memories from the holidays.

What's the most important thing about the Holidays for you?

It’s the expected answer, but family. Even more specifically, the family I’ve made with Trillian.

What is your favorite Holiday Dessert?

Peppermint bark. I received it (the Williams-Sonoma tin) as a gift from a student one year and wondered where it had been my whole life. Amazingly, I haven’t had a bite this year. Which is probably for the best.

What is your favorite holiday tradition?

Every year at Christmas dinner, my mother-in-law puts out Christmas crackers. I had never popped one before my first Christmas with them. We open ours up, put on the paper crowns, and tell the lame jokes. And it wouldn’t be Christmas without them.

Which do you prefer giving or receiving?

Giving. That would have always been my answer, because it seems like the appropriate one, but it really is true now. I was starting to move in that direction in any case, but having a child has totally tipped the balance. I truly have given almost no thought to what’s waiting for me under the tree, but can’t wait to watch my son’s eyes light up tomorrow morning. I’m also excited about seeing how my in-laws react to their gifts (framed artwork from my son).

What is your favorite Christmas Song?

The Barenaked Ladies version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” Since I’m an atheist, I’m not entirely comfortable with the amount of “God” in this carol, and yet I can’t get enough of this particular version.

Hardest person to buy for?

My mother. I never know what she wants and can never tell from her reaction if she actually likes what I got her.

Favorite Christmas movie?

Nightmare Before Christmas. Trillian is big into watching movies to match the season, so we watch this one from Halloween through to Christmas (though I’m thinking we haven’t pulled it out yet this season). My favorite holiday-themed movie is Home for the Holidays. It’s not technically a Christmas movie, but it is about the craziness that is family—and when will anyone ever ask you your favorite Thanksgiving movie?

What do you want for Christmas this year?

To pass the exam I’m supposed to be studying for right now.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

15 years ago today

Fifteen years ago today my father passed away.

It was not a surprise, as much as any death is not a surprise. He had survived his first bout with cancer four years earlier. But it had come back. Several times. And at the beginning of my first year at the local university, he told my siblings and me that it had returned again and had been deemed inoperable. It was going to kill him.

It was shortly after that family meeting that things changed enough to make the inevitable very real to us. First he had to give up his daily bike ride to and from campus because he had to go on a morphine pump to control the pain--no biking, no driving. The bicycle went to me as the only other person tall enough for the frame (we were, in fact, the same height, though I appeared taller due to my long legs and ballet-trained posture).

Within a couple more weeks it didn't matter that he'd had to give up the daily ride, as he was no longer able to work. He was set up comfortably at home, but his only trips out were for doctor's appointments. A couple of family members with nursing experience came to help out and handle all of the medical things that needed to be done at home; they also made sure that my mother and siblings had a good dinner every night. I was living in a residence hall on campus, so I wasn't there all of the time, but I went home much more often than I'd initially planned.

Around midterms in October, my father began to display signs of mental deterioration. My father had made it quite clear to us that life without his mental capacities intact was not worth living. We thought that the end was coming, had a visit from a hospice worker, tried to steel ourselves. And then the doctor discovered that two of his drugs were interacting. Within days, his mind was back.

At the beginning of Decemeber, my mother's father passed away and she made a quick, frantic trip to be with her family, worried the entire time that something might happen back at home.

My last final for the semester was on the very last day of the exam period: Friday, December 20th. My residence closed that same afternoon, so I headed home for the month-long break. My father and I talked some about what I might major in--I think I still hadn't narrowed it down from the triple major I had been contemplating. My areas of interest overlapped with his, both his major and minor from university (with another language thrown in).

Over the weekend, he began to decline. His speech became more labored, his movements less controlled. My mother and our relatives talked about moving him to a hospice where they'd be better able to handle his needs. My father had wanted to die at home, but they didn't think they could do everything he needed.

On Monday, December 23rd, I sat in the kitchen with my mother and siblings. We were talking and reminiscing about funnier times. I remember feeling the need to make sure we were laughing. A relative came around the corner and asked my mom to come back with her. And I knew. I just knew.

I suggested to my siblings that we head downstairs. I don't remember the reason I gave or if I even needed one. And so we went to the playroom and continued our conversation. I was divided in the moment, keeping up the light-hearted banter with them while waiting for someone to summon us. I have no concept of how long it was before we were called upstairs, told the inevitable, and allowed back to the master bedroom so that we could see our father one last time.

I have always believed that my father picked the moment of his passing. He knew that he wouldn't be able to stay at home much longer, that he would lose the opportunity to dictate his own terms. I would like to think that on that afternoon our laughter trickled back to the bedroom and that he decided to let go while the house was full of happiness.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

17 hours later

As long as the storms hold off, I'll be settled in at my in-laws this time tomorrow with my Thursday shopping trips... already planned.
Famous last words.

Now to be fair, I am writing this from my in-laws'. I did sleep in their guest room last night. So we did, at least, accomplish our main goal for yesterday. But it came close to not happening at all and required many, maaaany more airports and hours of travel than we had ever expected.

We were supposed to fly through Denver on Wednesday with a connection to our final destination. We were excited to be trying a new route that would get us into the small airport closest to Scooter's grandparents, cutting out the hour-plus drive from the airport which most airlines use to get to this area.

When we went to bed Tuesday night, it looked like the snow might peter out and fall short of the snow advisory and warning we'd seen online. And indeed, Wednesday morning found the snow warning cancelled--with a blizzard warning in its place. We decided to head to Pearson anyway, a few alternates forming as we went.

At check-in, all of our flights still showed "on time", but Trillian asked our agent about other routes, including to nearby airports. He was wonderfully helpful and tried all sorts of combinations. He could get us to one of airline's other hubs on Wednesday or Thursday without any trouble, but there were no seats from them to our final destination for days. We could fly standby, which would have meant spending days at the airport waiting to see if a flight managed to have 3 unexpected openings. During the holidays. When thousands of other people would be hoping to do the same thing. We decided to check in and hope we'd make it in and out of Denver before they closed the airport.

45 minutes before our flight was due to leave, it was cancelled. No flights allowed into Denver after 1pm. The Denver airport would be closing. Denver was basically closed. The airline would be happy to try to find alternate routes, although those passengers who had been headed to Denver as their final destination would just have to wait until the airport reopened (Friday at noon, they're now saying--at the earliest). We just needed to get our baggage and then they'd be happy to figure things out for us. Except Trillian and I already knew that, with the holiday traffic, there probably wouldn't be any seats to our destination until after Christmas. She got on the phone to her parents to let them know what was happening and to set Plan B into motion. I went to get our bags, leaving Scooter and our carry-ons with Trillian so I could get maneuver more quickly.

While I waited for our bags--which took a while since they first couldn't get the conveyor going and then had the wrong flight's bags--Trillian got everything sorted. As soon as I met up with her and Scooter, we headed to the car, vouchers from our original airline and new travel itinerary on Southwest in hand. New destination: the Buffalo airport.

Luckily there was very little traffic and the border crossing, even though it was backed up, took less than half an hour. We even had time to stop at a chain restaurant to eat a full meal so that we wouldn't have to rely on airport food. There was even a Starbucks next door so that Trillian could get her gingerbread latte fix. Once in the airport, we stopped at the play area and let Scooter shake out the kinks after the drive. It was, of course, past his nap time, but he refused to settle down for a nap.

Our first flight included a stop in the middle. Scooter slept during our descent and woke up when I picked him up (gently, I swear). Then a switch of planes. Then we finally arrived to our destination, more or less--the larger nearby airport. After the hour-plus drive, we finally made it. For about 10 minutes, Scooter was torn between the over-stimulation of being at his grandparents' house and complete exhaustion. A memorable quote: "I want to play trains, I want to sit at table [a play table], I want to sleep." He fell asleep within 5 minutes of getting into bed and having everything arranged to his liking.

So the numbers for this trip:
8:00 am = time we left our apartment
1:00 am = time (in Toronto) when we got to the grandparents' house
1 = flights cancelled
5 = airports we went to (though we didn't get off the plane at the 3rd one)
3 = times we had to go through security
2 = times we went through customs
15 = minutes Scooter slept between 7:30 am Wednesday and 1:15 am Thursday.
1 = child who is ecstatic to be at Grandma and Grandpa's

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A little traveling music

Edited below.

We head off to the in-laws tomorrow. Much of our day involved tracking developing storms across the States; there have been snow advisories and warnings for more than one place along our route, making us fearful that we might get stuck somewhere. Scooter remembered this morning that we're going to the airport and will get to see Grandma and Grandpa, so we don't want to have to explain why we're staying home or stuck in a crappy motel with the wrong kind of chicken nuggets/ etc. Plus, I'm ready for the break.

Somehow I've avoided falling into my usual pre-flight routine. Last minute laundry, everyone packed but me, endless lists, what has to get done, what can be skipped. I'm usually up until at least midnight or 1 am, jumping out of bed for the first hour I try to sleep as I suddenly remember something else. But we managed to get nearly everything packed yesterday and my wife collected the paperwork for the trip and handled all of the laundry (that will get done before we go--there's always some left). I let go of the idea that my seminar paper would be done before I left for 10 days, so I've gathered most of what I'll need, along with the materials I need to study for my January exam. But all of that's already in my backpack (OK, OK, I just thought of four additional books I really should bring with me, but am thinking I'll leave them here and deal with them when I get back).

It doesn't feel right for the night before a trip, but I'll be in bed by 11 pm. Unless I decide to stay up to watch Jon Stewart. But I'm not staying up for trip-related purposes. There's always more to do, and I'll think of some of it tonight and in the morning. The important stuff will get done in the morning. The rest can wait.

As long as the storms hold off, I'll be settled in at my in-laws this time tomorrow with my Thursday shopping trips (Target, Borders, an incredibly well-stocked Whole Foods) already planned. And the grandparents (aka babysitters) fawning over the child.

My title did not originally have a deeper meaning. And yet, as soon as I published this, I headed back to the office to pick through some CDs. A Suzanne Vega song has been going through my head, and I wanted to go check the lyrics. Came across a favorite Peter Gabriel CD. Am now ripping both to my laptop so that I have them for when I'm doing my work.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Gaining weight

No, not me. While the weight has not exactly been melting away during this break of mine, I'm at least back to the weight from my first weigh-in of early pregnancy four or so years ago, a loss of about 5 pounds from when I started keeping track again. If I can lose another 5 before I start trying again, I'll be happy.

The weight gain, or rather desired weight gain, is for my son. As a newborn, Scooter gained weight at the upper end of what's expected. He nursed well and seemed to be getting plenty. Then, at about nine months, about the time we were trying to get him to increase the amount of solid food in his diet, his weight gain leveled off and his percentile sank lower and lower. One pediatrician gave us a lecture about hiding extra calories and nutrients in food--put wheat germ in his applesauce, spinach in his tomato sauce, never mind that he didn't eat any of those. But this was the one doctor at Scooter's old practice we didn't particularly like; we preferred to put our faith in another pediatrician's advice: don't worry, even if he's in the 5th percentile for weight, he's holding steady there, so I'm not concerned.

Nonetheless, we've decided recently to worry about his weight again, mostly because he's so skinny. He's a picky eater and is not generally interested in food; he'd probably skip meals if we didn't offer them to him. That's not to say his nutritional intake is greatly lacking. He eats a variety of foods, just a selection from the same ones everyday: goldfish crackers, Cheerios, a couple other cereals (Barbara's Cinnamon Puffins and, oddly enough, Fibre One Honey Clusters), orange juice, milk, apples, chicken nuggets, veggie dogs, bread with either butter or ketchup, cheese sandwiches or quesadillas, and sweets.

So Trillian and I have been looking for ways to boost his calorie intake without relying entirely on non-nutritious offerings and turning this into a battle of wills. What we've come up with so far (some of which we've already implemented, some which is in the works):

1) Whole milk. In addition to the 2% we buy (Trillian can't stand the taste of anything with less fat), we've been buying a small container of whole milk as "the boy's milk." We offer it to him regularly, both to drink and with his cereal.

2) Chicken nuggets. I've given up on my quest for homemade chicken nuggets for Scooter. I made some really yummy ones the other night, but he would barely even touch them. We realized the problem is that he needs uniformity. With homemade nuggets, if he gets a bite where the spices or breading tastes just a little different, it puts him off them altogether.*

3) Apples. Lots and lots of apples. Trillian has taken to cutting up an apple and keeping slices near Scooter as he plays. He tends to eat more if he's distracted. That way we make sure he's consistently getting vitamins and minerals.

4) Fruit and vegetable breads. With cream cheese frosting. Applesauce bread, zucchini bread, pumpkin bread, carrot cake, anything that's a little sweet but still chock full of vitamins and minerals. And he likes cream cheese frosting, which will provide more fat and calories.

5) Cheese. He used to love cheese, but has not liked it as much recently. We're going to try finding a couple varieties he'll eat plain so that we have a calcium-rich, high-calorie, easy snack.

6) Sweets. More specifically, bribing with sweets. Not my first choice, but it works. Tonight was the promise that he could have some chocolate after he finished the chicken nuggets on his plates. He complained less than usual and ate almost twice what we expected.

I find it somewhat ironic, in this day of obsessing over childhood obesity, that I am trying to force more calories into my son, even to the point of indulging in behaviors that are targeted by concerned experts--don't eat while involved in other activities, because then there's a tendency to eat more.

The trick will be balancing the foods that help Scooter gain weight while making sure that I continue on my downward path. Maybe if we eat the same sized portions...

*Since it doesn't look like I'll be able to get him onto organic chicken nuggets, I'll focus on making as much of the rest of his food as possible organic.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Techno-geek or Luddite?

Several items of technology I swore I had no use for, yet I wouldn't want to give them up now:

1) Keyless remote entry for my car. How hard is it to unlock a car door, I would scoff. And then, when I was about 10 weeks pregnant, we went to a wedding and rented a car with remote entry. LOVED IT! And could totally see how useful it would be once the baby arrived. So while it wasn't on my list of must-haves for a new car, I was very happy it came with the model we picked out. And I actually complain now that our fob doesn't include a button for the trunk.

2) Cordless phone. I know, welcome to the 1980s. But, seriously, we bought a cordless phone, my first one, last year. And really Trillian bought it so that she could use it, with its speaker phone and muting capability, for conference calls. I will admit, however, that it's nice to be able to move it wherever I need to.

3) Semi-automatic espresso maker. Because how difficult is it to grind and tamp some espresso? Not very, and yet we found that part of the process took a while and added to cleanup. Our current machine empties and cleans the brew group; grinds, measures, and tamps the espresso; and sends the proper amount of water through the grounds. We still have to handle the frothing of the milk, but I prefer that bit of control. We make a lot more of our coffee at home thanks to the ease of this machine--we also managed to buy it on sale at a time when it cost much less than now (thanks, I believe, to the thriving Euro).

4) Leap-pad. Do I want a machine to teach my child to read? No! Reading is a special time and activity for us. Then we got one as a birthday gift. And my son loves it. I wouldn't say it's teaching him how to read anymore than anything else we're doing. Rather, he enjoys the characters and games, though not to the exclusion of other things, so I don't yet worry about him becoming a slave to this toy.

Technology I still swear I don't need.

1) Tivo. Not that I ever figured out our DVR before it ignobly died this month, but I just can't justify spending the money upfront and a monthly service charge on top of that to record what I can set my VCR or DVR for. And even though I don't have things set up for timer recording right now, there's next to nothing on TV that I just have to see that badly. Even something like Battlestar Galactica, although I rarely miss an episode, read online to figure out what happened, and rest assured that I'll watch it when we buy the DVD of the season--which we inevitably will.

2) PDA. Trillian has had a couple Palm Pilots, though her second one died recently (lost its charge and won't hold one anymore). I toyed with the idea of getting one on several occasions, but have never followed through; it would take so much work to get it set up. I prefer a spiral-bound school planner. When I was a teacher, I used the homework planner published by my school to hold both my class plans and my out-of-school appointments. Now, I use a university-published one so that I already have a record of university-related dates.

3) Satellite radio. My father-in-law has one, and I can see the appeal of non-commercial radio. But this is another item I can't imagine paying a monthly fee for. There are a few radio stations that don't pay too many commercials, and I have a CD player if all else fails.

I'm probably missing some others, but you get the idea. Part of me wants to hole up in a cabin in the woods (not entirely a joke, that's part of the plan I mentioned yesterday). But I would definitely have my laptop and high-speed wireless internet.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A few lists, as meditation

Trillian is home. Finally. She's home, and things are settling back down here. Scooter stayed home to enjoy some time with his two mommies, and it was very nice to cocoon a bit with the family. Even more of the funk that I was in is lifting, due both to the simple presence of my wife and to having my sounding board back in person.

We've begun to formulate a plan for the next couple years, something that moves us towards some of the things we both really want. And so I'm in a bit of a list-making mood right now.*

Goals for 2007
1) Get pregnant
2) Pass the rest of my qualifying exams
3) Organize all loose papers in the apartment (and yes, that will take a year)
4) Get my son into speech therapy (we're on the waitlist)

Goals for the 2007-08 school year
1) Finish all coursework
2) Pass my minor field
3) Complete the reading for my major field
4) Have the second child
5) Move with my family to our favorite area of the US

Goals for three years
1) Have my dissertation ready for defense
2) Be on the market

Goals for ten years
1) Complete one novel
2) Have a tenure-track job (or a stable and satisfying adjunct situation--if that's not an oxymoron)
3) Own a house again--and have it remodeled to fit our long-term needs

Mostly realistic I think, I hope. Fodder for more posts. Reference for days when I become untethered again.

*Bub and Pie, I just about cracked up when I saw you refer to list-making as an indulgence. I love list-making. But, really, is that a surprise?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Win some great stuff, help a great cause

Blogger was giving me trouble last night--wouldn't let me in to post or comment anywhere. Very frustrating, especially since I had set aside time for it. So of course it now lets me in, after I've had a very long day and just spent a couple hours starting on grading my exams (which are not going quite as well as I'd hoped on the most factual portion, sigh). As a result, no coherent post tonight,
I just want to point you in the direction of an excellent cause.

Over at Motherhood Uncensored, you can find a raffle auction. The proceeds are going to MD Canada in honor of Her Bad Mother's nephew Tanner. For more details, you can see Sandra's explanation at Mommy Blogs Toronto. Or just click on over to the auction. I'll be there shortly!

Her Bad Auction

Monday, December 11, 2006

Baby steps

When I hit Publish on Saturday, I was a bit embarrassed about sharing part of my existential crisis. But between the supportive comments I got and a few deep breaths, I'm starting to figure out what I need to do to get a handle on that particular source of angst--and I won't get into the other stuff now.

Not that any of this is novel or particularly earth-shattering, but here are some of the thoughts that are helping me move forward.

1) I can't do it all. I simply cannot solve all problems on my own. But it is also not my burden to take care of everything.

2) The most important thing is that I do something. It will not be the solution, but every little action makes a difference.

3) I should pick those things that speak most clearly to me on a personal level. Because I am truly passionate about environmental and animal issues, those are the ones that I should pursue the most; I will find it easiest to keep up what I start. It does not mean that I don't care about homelessness or HIV/AIDS or that I won't take action, but see #1.

That said, I've decided to start with a few small, but concrete, actions that are inspired by some of my greater concerns. The following list focuses on the tie between food and the environment. It was Andrea's post that made me really think again about the relationships between different levels of the food chain. And then I went back to my copy of Diet for a Small Planet and found one of the statistics I'd vaguely remembered: to get 1 pound of beef, it takes about 16 pounds of grain and soybeans. That's 15 additional pounds of food, much of it a good source of protein, that could be feeding so many more. On top of that, producing beef requires huge additional amounts of water and fossil fuels beyond what crops take.

When I became a vegetarian at 18 (long story short--I had wanted to become one for many years. My parents wouldn't allow me to quit eating meat while I lived at home; I, and I'm not kidding here, was the kind of kid who didn't even think about just refusing to eat it), there was not just one reason for my decision. I have always loved animals and had cried the first time I fully realized that lamb really was a lamb (and started to put together all the food names with their counterparts). As a young child, I came up with the dream of living on forested land where I would keep all sorts of animals, with the provision that I would teach the predators not to eat other animals. I came to understand that this was an unrealistic expectation, but I then wondered why people couldn't do this since we can make choices about what we eat. Later came the recognition of the extra burden placed on land for raising food animals, the generally poor treatment of said animals, and the health benefits of eating less animal fat.

I faltered with the vegetarian diet at about 8-10 weeks into my pregnancy when my body started screaming out for meat. I stuck with it into breastfeeding because my body was running through calories even faster than when I had been pregnant. I tried for a short time to go back to a vegetarian diet, but found it too difficult for a number of reasons, including a health problem that was making it hard for me to keep my blood sugar up. Now Trillian is not a vegetarian and could never switch to a fully vegetarian diet because of her own health issue (nothing major, but soy is actually something she has to limit), so I don't know that I'll go back to my original diet since I don't want to juggle multiple meals for the family.

An added dimension of my concern now is the quality of food: pesticides, artificial ingredients, filler like high fructose corn syrup, all the things that make the nutritional value of some foods questionable.

So here are my starting points on this issue:

A) I will eat at least 4 meatless meals (lunches and dinners) a week. It's time to pull out some of my old favorites and pick out some new experiments.

B) I will experiment with recipes for homemade chicken nuggets, using organic chicken. My son's two favorite forms of protein are veggie dogs and chicken nuggets, but only very specific chicken nuggets that come from mainstream brands. We've tried several different types made with organic chicken, but Scooter hates the breading on all of them. I have a chicken strip recipe, so I will mess with that to see if I can get the breading to his liking.

C) I will bake more often. Most of my plans to overhaul our eating involve doing away with all sweets. But if I want to create a plan that we will actually follow, I need to recognize the things we're just not going to give up. Cookies are on that list. But if I make a batch every couple weeks, freezing most of them so that we don't eat too many at a time, we will always have delicious cookies made from mostly organic ingredients so that we're not tempted to go buy a bag that is full of chemicals, creates extra landfill material with its packaging, and has had to travel a long distance to get to us (additional reasons I could add to B).

All three are fairly painless and even tap into things I like. None of them are huge actions, but it's a start.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Sneaking into the back

I got invited to a wedding this week, a wedding of minds and concerns for social justice. And as I always do with most social invitations, I wavered. Then Trillian had to go off to a funeral. And Scooter and I were struck by the plague. On top of that, I’ve been reading some of the posts leading up to this whole shindig and feeling more and more inadequate. So I was totally going to blow the whole thing off. But I’ve decided to sneak into the back with a shy little wave and at least sign the guestbook.

All of the festivities are occurring when I’m in the middle of a bit of an existential crisis vis a vis my place in the world and if I am doing enough to minimize the footprint I leave. Most of this revolves around environmental concerns, though Andrea does an excellent job of showing how these issues are co-implicated in issues of social justice.

I’m the kind of person who can be paralyzed in the face of decision. Since a very young age, I’ve understood the concept of consequences and been able to work out all of the possibilities. And lately, each action I take, every item that surrounds me is a vivid reminder that I am not living up to my own standards or principles. Even when I try to take a positive action in one direction, I am aware of the many ways in which it conflicts with another.

A small, but easily parsed, example for illustration.

The basic premise: Scooter and I took a trip to Ikea so that we could buy several plush toys. Ikea is donating $1 from the sale of each plush toy to UNICEF and Save the Children. We will then donate the toys to two holiday drives, one on campus and one in our building.

The ways in which this matches my principles: I want to teach Scooter that not everyone has as much as he does and that, since we are in a position to do so, we should help others. He’s a bit young to understand the concept yet, but I am trying to introduce it now, in terms he understands. He is looking forward to Christmas and presents, there are some kids who don’t always get presents, so we should get some for them. A bit simplistic, but a start.

The three major conflicts that leap to mind:

#1. The Environment. We drove to Ikea for the purpose of buying several stuffed animals. We did not group our errands. We didn’t even buy the additional items I had planned on getting (particularly the compact fluorescent light bulbs). While our car is a very low emissions car (though not a hybrid), those were not miles we necessarily needed to drive.

#2. Consumerism. We buy too much. I’m trying to become a much more thoughtful consumer so that I only buy well-made items that will last and that we will use regularly. I’m also trying to show my son that buying stuff is not always the solution. I also know that the more we buy, the more will be made, since companies respond to demand. By purchasing less, I move myself to the edge of that cycle. But in this case I stepped right back into the middle of it.

#3. Religion. We are atheists and try very hard to support only nonsectarian organizations and charities. This is not to say that all church-based or religiously-founded charities are bad. We are wary, however, about the possibility that they will push views with which we disagree. For example, the Salvation Army holds evangelical beliefs, including an opposition to “homosexual behavior” and same-sex marriage. And so that is one charity I simply cannot support. For the toy drives, however, I know that the umbrella organization that is handling at least one of them has some partners that are based in religious organizations. I have not done research into every one of them, but am aware that my giving may end up funneled through people with whom I disagree on some very important issues.

Obviously this is a work in progress. I’m trying to take baby steps and pick small concrete actions that will help me move back to living more closely in harmony with my core principles. I apologize for bringing my angst to such a joyous occasion. I’ll tuck it back in my pocket now and raise my glass to the many wonderful women here today.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Emerging from the haze

Sporadic posts as we over at the nest try to recover from the plague and pestilence that has descended upon us. Reports from the States indicate that Trillian is suffering from the early stages: sore throat degenerating into a rough cough.

Yesterday was difficult for both Scooter and me. I was coughing crap up, and Scooter threw up a couple times--too much mucus! Neither one of us felt like doing much of anything, but I had a couple of meetings I had to get to, especially as this is the end of the semester and they were time-sensitive. So, for the first time this semester, for the first time since I began this program actually, I bundled Scooter up and brought him with me, armed with many Cars, some orange juice, and snacks. Not much fun for anyone, but we managed.

Once we got back home, we bunkered down, liberally dosing ourselves with Tylenol (for the fever both of us have been running) and meds for the congestion (Benadryl for the boy, Mucinex for me--brought in from the States since we can't find it here). Both of us napped in the afternoon; I got in three hours, Scooter slept for 4 1/2 hours (and still fell asleep around his usual time).

Today is more of the same. I'm missing the last day of my classes for the semester, but there was no way around it. Even if Trillian were here to watch Scooter, I don't think I could have handled a full day for myself.

We did manage a trip to the grocery store for more meds and other essentials (i.e., Goldfish crackers). Of course, I managed to forget two things I had told myself last night not to forget--but they never made it onto the written list.

I highly suspect that this is the flu, diagnosed mostly by the aches and chills I had yesterday. Both have abated significantly today, and the fever is not quite as high or persistent. So perhaps the whining shall pass soon too.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The cruelest season

I had to put my wife on a plane to the States this morning. A family member passed away, not entirely unexpectedly, but a bit of a shock nonetheless. For those of you who may have known her blog, back when she was keeping it up, you will know a bit of the back story to that. So as she finds herself grieving and trying to negotiate her family and potentially hostile territory (this relative lived in a state where we won't travel with our family because the laws are bad enough that we couldn't trust a judge to side with us if someone decided it was in our son's best interest not to live with two women), I am temporarily a single parent as I try to finish up my semester. Scooter and I are both sick and grumpy; we miss Trillian.

I should be working on my paper. I should be reading for my class on Friday. I should be writing my holiday post for Mommy Blogs Toronto. But unfortunately, this is pretty much what I would come up with right now:

While I generally enjoy the holidays, this time of year brings with it many reminders of sadness.

Fifteen years ago this month, we lost both my grandfather and my father. Both had been ill for months, my father on and off for years. But suddenly they were gone in less than a month. Only my mother made it to my grandfather's service, and she came home to a husband who was in deteriorating condition.

Almost four years ago, just after New Year's, while I was in my third trimester, my grandmother passed away. My uncle followed about a month later. I couldn't get to either service because I couldn't fly and both deaths happened as our area was struck by winter storms that paralyzed all car and train traffic.

This year, it's in my wife's family. One of the things that upset Trillian most was that she had been planning another trip down to help out once her family member was out of the ICU. Everyone told her she didn't need to hurry down, plus while she was recovering from pneumonia, there's no chance they would have let her into the unit to visit. And I have a fear that the previous pattern may be repeated since another of her family members has been diagnosed with a type of cancer that generally has a poor survival rate. One small ray of hope is that it has turned out to be more localized than originally expected, so there may be more treatment options available.

Tonight I'm wallowing. Tomorrow I may make cookies and try to recapture the holiday spirit.

Monday, December 04, 2006

How does my garden grow?

This past weekend, Trillian and I picked up our holiday gift to each other. This has been a habit of ours for many years now; we pick something out for the house or our mutual enjoyment and call it a Christmas gift. Some years it's very practical--I think we considered some repairs to our house our present the first year we lived there. This year, it's a bit of a luxury, but something that promises to be useful too.

Our special purchase? The Aerogarden.*

It's a fully self-contained, hydroponic growing system. The makers have taken out all of the guesswork and made it very difficult to mess up. In four weeks, we should have a full garden of herbs, sitting in easy reach on our kitchen counter. Seven different herbs. No dirt, no pesticides. Once the herbs are done, we'll pop in the salad greens pods and have two to three months of fresh lettuce. I'm a little excited.

Back at our old house, we had a wonderful herb garden and would go clip off bits of thyme, basil, parsley, rosemary, and several others during the warmer months. Since the herb mix for our Aerogarden does not include rosemary, I picked up a rosemary "tree" at Loblaws as well. It makes things feel a little bit more like home. Added bonus, it's shaped like a Christmas tree, so it introduces miniature holiday cheer.

Another benefit we've discovered is that the grow lights add a lot of bright light to our living area. We've got one of those open plan kitchen/dining area/ living room setups, so the light from the kitchen counter reaches into every corner of our most used room. I have some hopes this will help with our seasonal affective disorder; both Trillian and I seemed to suffer from it to a degree we'd never experienced before last winter.

I spent part of my afternoon sitting at the dining room table to do my grading. The growlight illuminated my work while the scent of rosemary kept me alert.

I'm very excited about the fresh produce we'll soon have--it won't be certifiably organic, but it will be completely free from the things that concern me about conventional produce. But in the meantime, it's already earning its keep.

*In Canada, you can get it online from Golda's Kitchen or Aviva. Golda's Kitchen is based in Mississauga, so it's pretty easy to get to from Toronto. I should point out, however, that I got the last one in stock this weekend, so it may be a bit before others are available.

Friday, December 01, 2006

A little me time

A couple weeks ago, when Trillian was apologizing for the umpteenth time for being sick and leaving me with the bulk of household duties (to which I responded for the umpteenth time, "But that's family and you'd do it for me), she suggested that when everyone got better, I should go to a spa for a special treat.

In the past, when we've thought about doing such things, they tend to get forgotten. And so, I've never actually used the services of a spa. I've had a couple nice haircuts; yeah for Aveda mini-massages! I've seen massage therapists, but that's it.

But this time, I've decided that I will follow through and treat myself. So here's why I'm writing about this: help me figure out the best way to pamper myself for even just an hour or so. I do need another haircut, but that does not have to be part of the package. I also haven't decided if this will be pre- or post-Christmas.

If you're in the Toronto area, can you recommend some spa or salon with spa services?

Even if you're not in the Toronto area, you can play along. What are your favorite spa treatments?

Completely unrelated: Be sure to keep checking out Mommy Blogs Toronto. There's a new post up there, Kittenpie's book suggestions. New content now appears three times a week: Monday, Wednesday, Friday. And we'll be starting in with some holiday posts this coming Monday!