Thursday, May 31, 2007

Becoming a family

Tomorrow is Blogging for LGBT Families Day. June 1st also happens to be close to the anniversary of our second-parent adoption (four years now).

When Trillian and I began looking to buy a house in the States, our geographical limitations were determined, at least in part by the fact that we are gay. And that we were already planning on becoming parents. We didn't want to live right in the particular city where I worked, but it is situated in such a way that we had a choice of two states and numerous combinations of counties and localities. While the big city was the most progressive of the areas, as far as gay rights go, we had a list of reasons for going with the next locality down on the list: property values (i.e. being able to afford a house), good public schools, and lower taxes while still being close enough to take advantage of several positives the city has to offer.

It was an easy decision to rule out one of the two states as a place to live. While there were a few localities that had welcoming communities, same-sex adoption was not allowed by law. And because they outlawed relationships "approximating marriage" (or some such wording), there was some question as to whether or not they would honor wills and powers-of-attorney that same-sex couples had drawn up to grant each other the sort of rights married couples automatically have. Even if we hadn't planned on having a child, we didn't want to put ourselves in that position.

We settled into our house a little more than a year before we started trying for a baby. And part of the way through the pregnancy, we began to look into the process of second-parent adoption. We looked into two different lawyers who came highly recommended both in conversations with others and online. The lawyer we went with had a set fee for second-parent adoptions (with the oh-so-legal caveat that unusual cases would incur an additional cost). She had been through the process so many times that she had a checklist.

Part of the process involved changing jurisdictions so that our case would be considered by a particular judge who had decided there was no reason not to treat adoptions like ours as step-parent adoptions. This, at least, addressed one of my biggest issues with the usual process--why require a home study when the child will remain in the house even if the adoption isn't granted? In lieu of a home study, we submitted letters from friends and family, basically to indicate that we were in a committed relationship and had planned on having this child together. We still have these letters, and it is very touching to go back and read the wonderful things they say. We also put together a "family album," including pictures of our house, pets, and (since I had a chance to add a few pictures between Scooter's birth and the final submission of our case) some showing Scooter with Trillian's parents.

On our court date, we had to travel to the nearby jurisdiction. Even though our lawyer assured us that the whole purpose of our presence was so that the judge could sign off on the adoption order, I still felt a little nervous. The proceedings occurred in the ceremonial courtroom, the sort you see in movies with dark wood paneling and a significantly elevated bench. A diverse bunch gathered there--same-sex families, step-parents adopting their new spouse's children, grandparents who found themselves raising grandchildren--but we were all there out of love for our children. The judge began by saying that he looked forward to the two times a month he presided over this particular court and had the chance to help families achieve legal status. He then called each family up, ascertained their identities, and declared the adoption completed. After everyone's turn, he then posed for pictures with the families. We have one with Trillian and me next to the judge, Scooter tucked into his sling.

After the proceedings, we headed back to the parking garage. The nerves had settled and we returned to more mundane concerns, such as diaper changes and feedings. I'm not entirely sure what I had expected, some thunderclap of feeling like a family. But as Trillian and I walked along, we realized that the bang of a gavel had not fundamentally changed our family. True, we now had legal recognition of our roles in each others' lives, but we generally won't need to call specifically on those rights outside of crises. And while relief does accompany the knowledge that we have papers to shove in people's faces if the occasion arises, the adoption changed absolutely nothing about the family we are on a daily basis. We created that on our own.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Global Warming Wednesday: Charging one's batteries

Thanks to Trillian's websurfing, I just found out about USB Cells, batteries designed to be recharged via a computer's USB ports. Right now, only AAs are available, but other sizes and types (like phone batteries) are in the works. Two AAs run about $19 US (priced in pounds, so the exact amount will vary), which is a bit pricey--but you don't need a separate charger, so you save some expenses there.

I have to admit that our use of rechargeable batteries has not been consistent for a while. We tend to find that we have either the recharger or the batteries, but rarely can locate both at the same time. (Whisper: And there is a chance we just don't have them anymore--I don't remember seeing them since we moved to Canada. A possible moving-related black hole.) On the other hand, switching back to rechargeable batteries has been on my mind.

One concern I have with the USB Cells, however, is just how practical I would find them. In particular, I wonder about being able to keep them charged. The graphic at their website shows them being plugged into side-by-side ports on a laptop. My ports are on top of each other, so that would limit me to charging one battery at a time. If I used USB extension cables (I have one already, but would need a second one for this), I could charge two, but that would mean a couple of cords dangling from my computer. And then there's the fact that, as things stand now, I can never remember to plug my Shuffle in whenever I have my computer on, so what chance would I stand of actually getting batteries charged when I needed them? My final concern is about the amount of electricity the USB port draws when recharging the batteries--I suspect I could figure some of that out if I really wanted to, but at this point all I have confirmed is that, yes in fact, the port would be drawing extra electricity.

Concerning batteries in general, I've decided to look at the issue using that most basic of environmental saws: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Reduce: The best option is to reduce reliance on batteries to begin with. The first things that come to mind are the myriad noise-making toys my son has. While they don't go through batteries quickly, the sheer number of toys that require batteries means a good number go towards this. One upside of his sensory issues is that he doesn't like too much noise, so he doesn't use the noise function of these toys as much as he might. We have been trying to avoid such toys as much as possible and do not always replace the batteries if there is some entertainment value to be had from such toys even without the literal bells and whistles. When Scooter received a "Deluxe" Thomas Roundhouse for his birthday, the box informed us that it made a noise when trains ran over certain spots in the sheds. Trillian and I both groaned, more for the sake of our ears than the environment when we thought that this was a toy that would require batteries and not work without. But after I put it together, I made an important discovery--the doors still opened and everything worked just fine without the batteries, there just weren't any additional sounds. So no batteries ever went in and Scooter doesn't even realize it could do more.

Reuse: This is where the rechargeables come into play, and I need to do more concrete planning about how to move from recycling to reusing for those battery-run items that are must-haves. Of course, the first item that pops into my mind? I'm embarrassed to admit that would be our remotes (though we got rid of one since our current DVD player is really our PS2, which is so old it doesn't work with an infrared remote and we actually have to get up to use the controls). But toys that have been allowed to keep their batteries fall into this category.

Recycle: I'm good at this one, and it has become much easier to do this. There is a recycling point in my university library, so I tend to collect batteries in my bag and drop them off whenever I remember. IKEA also accepts both batteries and compact fluorescent light bulbs for recycling. And many municipalities will accept them either as part of special hazardous waste pick-ups or at specific hazardous waste centers. As with CFLs, recycling batteries means that the most hazardous parts will be recaptured and prevented from entering our soil and groundwater. The other parts are still left over, but at least the worst of them is contained.

Anybody have other suggestions? Know about technologies that may improve this situation soon?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

We interrupt our usual programming for a little gloating

When I started my graduate program two years ago, I was part of a fairly large incoming class. For at least the first semester, we were a very civil and inclusive group. There were a few other women who were in many of my classes, and so we found ourselves thrown together in many situations. I found it interesting that we didn't immediately fall into groups, told myself it was because we were in graduate school and were mature adults. On the other hand, this led me to hold pretty much everyone at arm's length since the priority in this sort of relationship was maintaining civility.

And then things started to shift a bit in second semester. That's when I began going for coffee with only one of those women. And after a few of these almost-weekly meetings, we finally got up the nerve to admit to each other that some of our classmates drove us nuts! And I started to realize that differentiating between classmate and friend was important; otherwise, I would not have anyone within my department with whom I felt comfortable venting. Sure, Trillian is a great sounding board and she still has to hear my gripes anyway, but there is a definite advantage to having friends who either are in the midst of similar experiences or have had them recently.

That is not to say I have dropped the civil tone with my other classmates, even when they are the same ones who annoy me. At this point, however, we have also given up the pretense of spending time together outside of department functions.

For just a little bit, I'm going to drop the civility here and give you a small glimpse into the sort of cattiness I can muster. I would love to say it's wholly out-of-character for me, but that would be giving myself too much credit. There's also a bit of gloating. Again, not proud of it--except obviously I am a little, since I really want to share this anecdote.

One of my classmates comes from a very privileged background. Without giving too many details, I can say that she has attended "name" schools all the way through. Her family is quite well off, and she certainly does not have to worry about money in the way most graduate students do. Now, these facts, in and of themselves, are not the reason I so frequently desire to throttle her. It's that I know these things. Everybody in the department knows. And is reminded frequently, lest one forgets.

Case in point: This classmate buys all of the required texts for our classes. Including the core classes which frequently include upwards of 20 texts. In a discipline that is not known for producing cheap texts. (I considered doing this last semester, for the sake of convenience. Going the least expensive route, it would have cost me $350 US for 80% of the required texts--the others were hard to find and would have cost even more. I stuck with photocopies and library editions.) Again, the act of buying the texts is not what annoyed me--it's that she publicized the fact widely. If she had done this with the offer of letting classmates photocopy the relevant sections, that would be one thing. Instead, it was couched along the lines of "It only makes sense to buy all of the texts. I wouldn't dream of doing it any other way." And of course, I can't fully capture her delivery, but imagine it soprano, haughty, and dismissive.

Getting a bit closer to the specific reason for my post now, so hang in just a bit more.

The classmate and I were in the same seminar just this past semester. It was a history seminar, so a little outside of my field. It was not uninteresting, but I took it primarily to check off another requirement. There was an exam at the end of the course, a source of anxiety and frustration for many of us. Most seminars in our field end with a paper which makes up a large portion of the grade; presentations and participation, maybe some smaller written item too, usually make up the rest of the grade. And although one ideally keeps up with the readings and puts a lot of effort into analyzing the information, one of the nice things about being in a seminar tends to be the ability to let things slide here and there, as long as one gets it together for the graded components. A final exam throws a wrench in this strategy--for several of us (myself, a couple friends, and this classmate included), the stress was compounded by a higher stakes exam that was set for a little more than a week later.

Day of the exam, I get down to business. The seminar exam was set up so that we had a choice of questions; we knew the numbers ahead of time, so I had already figured out how I would allot my time, leaving 20 extra minutes overall. I chose my questions carefully and worked through them in a straightforward manner. A few of the questions seemed a bit odd, and I worried that I might not be approaching them as the professor intended, but did my best. I walked out feeling satisfied that I had turned in an acceptable performance, even if a couple answers were not quite what he wanted. I also knew that it would be better to let this exam performance slide a little bit in return for paying more attention to the higher stakes exam.

My classmate's response when asked how the exam went: "It was easy. But that's not surprising since I'm a [subject] historian." Even more annoying was her explanation that she had answered one more question than required and then spent the last fifteen minutes debating which ones to turn in.

So here comes the gloating. I got an email from the professor at the end of last week to give me a summary of my performance in the seminar. Included was a line informing me that my exam grade (a 90, which according to this institution is an A+) was the best in the course. From unofficial information, it also appears that I may have received the only semester grade of A. Which, by definition, means that this particular classmate of mine did not, for all her claims that the work was easy.

While this does not diminish the above cattiness, I do feel I should mention that a friend of mine who was also in the seminar, after telling me how he'd heard about the single A for the class, indicated his assumption that this other classmate had gotten it; he was happy to discover his assumption was wrong. Similarly, when I told another friend, who is a couple years ahead in the program, that I had done so well on the exam, her immediate response was, "Then you did better than N.!"

So I'm enjoying my little moment of glory now--with the knowledge that this won't mean much to me if I find out that the bigger exam was a bust.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

A relationship audit

(Edited for clarity's sake. Problem with lesbian drama, especially when trying to keep it anonymous, is that all the pronouns are the same.)

While not the intent of our trip to the US, visiting with friends served as a bit of a reminder about the health of our relationship. While we have our share of problems and have identified specifically the issues (and one issue more than any other) that can trigger trouble, "I love you" is not an empty statement in our house and we both like to spend time with the other. And after a weekend catching up with old friends, I am appreciative of just how much that means.

We stayed with one friend I met during my first graduate program; between some of A.'s LiveJournal posts and a few hints around her house, we've suspected something is up in her relationship. A'.s wife was away on business, so we didn't have a chance to witness anything in particular--and we weren't going to push for information since A. tends to lay out everything she's willing to and nothing more. Not that I want to see things fall apart for her, but Trillian and I both are not very fond of her wife. A. left the area where she grew up and moved a long distance so her wife could take a job in the city we lived near at the time... and then her wife left that job shortly after they had bought a house that stretched them financially. The wife has since taken another job and (fingers crossed) appears prepared to stay there for a while. And A. has finally, after a couple years, found a job that comes close to matching what she did before she moved. The wife is anti-intellectual--I don't just mean stupid, but really against making an effort to learn new things. And now we suspect that she may be cheating on A. While our friend might be better off in the long run without her wife, I hate to think about the complications involved in the whole mess.

And then there's our other friend, B.--who broke up with her longtime partner (also a friend, we'll call her C.) a little over a year-and-a-half ago. Again because of complications caused by owning a house together, they lived in the same house until recently when C. moved several states away. B. now lives in that house with her new girlfriend (of a little over a year). Whenever it came up, either with A. or with B. herself, all indications were that it was no big deal--everyone was an adult and handling it quite maturely. But it was quite clear when we saw B. that she's still very upset with C.

From what we've heard, B. was completely surprised when C. suggested they break up. We were surprised too when we found out, but more because of how long they'd been together (almost as long as Trillian and I); they had always picked at each other and did not seem to share many interests, but we had always figured there must be something else that kept them together. And then C. met someone online, definitely after the relationship ended, but before B. even thought of looking for someone. Suddenly B. had a new girlfriend--a woman she met at a support group for lesbians dealing with the end of a relationship. Very quickly they bought rings and started talking living together.

When we met the new girlfriend last year, we were ready to dislike her. But she was perfectly nice at our first meeting, relating especially well to Scooter--she drew train tracks on the paper covering the table at the restaurant so that he could run his Thomas along them. And she was great this time too. But we spent the whole time we were visiting noticing how B. picked on the new girlfriend--her profession and her health problems especially--and slipped in catty remarks about C.--how much it cost to buy her out of the house and all the stuff the ex took, obviously to spite her. We left feeling drained.

Now, Trillian and I have no desire to see our friends suffer, in or out of relationships, but we did come away appreciating what we have all the more. More than anything, we like and respect each other. When we have had problems (and what relationship doesn't?), the most distressing part for me has been that I might lose my best friend. Our personalities and interests overlap and complement each other in ways that allow us to truly enjoy each other's company while not merging into a single entity in an unhealthy manner. When we're in the midst of difficult times, I have found myself thinking, "But is that enough? What about...?" After the weekend with our friends, however, I am reminded that these things are not insignificant.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

In a galaxy far far away

30 years ago yesterday, a little film hit the theaters. I believe that it's the first film I ever saw in a theater, or at least the first one I remember.

Star Wars. Little bits of that first viewing remain forever etched in my mind. Luke's early training, vision obstructed. Leia's SOS (and those buns!). Obi Wan meets Darth Vader and suddenly disappears. The successful shot on the DeathStar (the force was totally with him!). I won't even go into the hours I spent after the second movie came up, sitting under a tree and willing myself to levitate.

When the movies were re-released 10 years ago, Trillian and I saw them again (wow, honey, we're old--that wasn't even the beginning of our relationship). Sure, I had seen them on video and TV several times in the intervening years, but something about watching them in the theater made me look at them differently. It was funny to pick out the historical and philosophical themes--imperialism (Roman and otherwise) and eastern philosophy. And I started to correct some of the misunderstandings bred by a four-year-0ld's view--amazing how those can get so entrenched. So now, layered upon the initial memory created at seeing Obi Wan die, came the understanding that, at that very moment, he reaches a transcendental state and simply ceases to exist. Vader doesn't actually kill him.

I can trace my maturity and critical skills based on my reaction to Star Wars films. I loved the Ewoks, hated Jar Jar Binks. As a kid, I would have been shocked that anyone would suggest Lucas' dialog is lacking or that he's not a good director. With the more recent episodes, however, I am fond of pointing these things out. Case in point, I have found Natalie Portman natural and believable in everything she's done, except for Amidala; the only explanation I can come up with for her amazingly painful and wooden "love" scene with Annakin is that she was following his script and direction.

Belated understanding and criticism aside, I will always have a soft spot for Star Wars and its successors. I will remember what it was like to root for Luke over Han in competition for Leia--and to be quite a bit grossed out over that later. I will still love the Ewoks and cry when they mourn their losses after the battle. And sometimes when I'm meditating, I'll also be wondering just how close I am to tapping into the force and levitating, even if only an inch.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The power of definition

Sensory Processing Disorder. SPD.

It's not an official diagnosis at this point, but that would require a developmental evaluation, and the wait list for that is over a year. So it's our working diagnosis.

We have now consulted with two occupational therapists, the one from the private clinic and the one from the province. Both have said that Scooter's problems are a result of his problems in integrating and filtering sensory information. This is not 100% rock-solid and the second OT conceded to Trillian that there is a chance that we are looking at autism. It's the first time we've had a professional not outright dismiss our concerns (though, to be fair, we didn't specifically ask the first OT). But she told us to go through several months of speech and occupational therapy first to see what improvements there are. She also mentioned that the private clinic we're using is probably the best set-up we can find, especially when one considers that the wait for the provincial help is at least a year--and even then it still wouldn't be covered by insurance for Scooter's situation.

I will write more about sensory processing disorder soon, but right now I am comforted by our ability to put a name to what we're facing and by the knowledge that we've made good choices in the support we're putting together for Scooter. In the few weeks he's been going to therapy, we've already noticed improvements in his mood, confidence, and social interactions. I'd be lying if I said it was all rosy--he's also taken to chewing on his clothing as a method of calming himself. But the combination of defining the problem and seeing small improvements gives me a new sense of hope and direction. And that, I'm discovering, is huge.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Global Warming Wednesday: Wormsh*t and fish guts

I've just now realized that I published last week's post without a full title--proof of just how drained I was. Things are better this week, although now I'm recovering from our road trip. I felt a little guilty when I realized that we drove over 600 miles on "Bike to Work Day." Of course, our car is low emissions and gets good gas mileage, so it could have been worse (e.g., flying for even one of us would have resulted in more pollution than all three of us driving).

Right now we have a bunch of seedlings around the house, and I am noticing that they definitely need some plant food. We are not being completely hard-nosed about growing organic--certainly not to certification standards--but neither do we want to dump a bunch of chemicals on our plants, so I've done a little research about what to feed my indoor friends.

One article describes the properties of such fun items as cottonseed meal (not gross, but also not what I need), blood meal (ew, not sure I'd consider my vegetables vegetarian if I used this), manure ('nuff said), and fish emulsion. That last one is the most promising one on the list, but I'm not crazy about the idea of my house smelling like a fish-rendering plant, even if "the smell dissipates within a day or two."

I did a little more research on this, nonetheless, and found an interesting product: Drammatic Liquid Fish Plant Food. More than just a fish emulsion, it is an innovative way of using the extra bits of fish that would otherwise be thrown out. The company has a fish-cleaning station at a marina in Wisconsin where people who have been fishing for fun can clean their fish and the leftovers are then used for plant food--instead of getting tossed out.

So I was very tempted to order up some of this plant food and just deal with the smell, when I found another product: TerraCycle. This is a company started by a couple of Princeton students who gathered food waste from residences and fed it to worms. This is a great way of composting indoors without odor (or so I'm told--we haven't actually tried it) and one of the byproducts is a very rich compost tea. They bottle this (in plastic soda bottles that people collect for them), and there you have instant plant food. Their product is available in some stores fairly near me, so I will be making a trip out in the next couple days to procure my first batch.

One thing I want to draw people's attention to is that TerraCycle is currently being sued by Scotts MiracleGro Company. If you read through the information, it's clearly ridiculous--the contention is that TerraCycle's products are packaged to look like MiracleGro, based on the use of yellow and green and a circle. Never mind that the shades are completely different, as is the circle's prominence on the label. Plus, given that my main goal here is to avoid anything like MiracleGro, this sure isn't a case of TerraCycle fraudulently getting my business.

Now we'll just have to see if plant food can cover for the myriad other mistakes I'm sure I've made.

Toronto dentist?

Global Warming Wednesday post to follow, but looking for a possible suggestion from other Toronto-area parents:

Do you have/know of a good pediatric dentist?

Scooter's been grinding his teeth, as part of his sensory issues, and will probably need to see someone. Our first trip to a dentist last semester was not very productive, so we're looking for someone with specific kid-experience.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Worlds collide

It is not that I don't personally know any of my readers. Aside from Trillian, however, it has been the case that I knew them as bloggers before meeting them in the real world. It's an interesting dynamic since we immediately know intimate details of each other's lives, but I am very thankful for the extra connections it has created for me in Toronto.

Meeting other bloggers has meant giving in a little on my anonymity, but that hasn't been a big deal, particularly because of the compartmentalization between blogging acquaintances and real world acquaintances. Trillian truly is the only person I see on a regular basis who knows of my blog. My best friend in my department knows I blog, but nothing more. I convinced myself that the likelihood of someone I interact with in real life discovering my blog was practically impossible. A needle in a haystack sort of situation.

There is a difference between improbable and impossible.

OK, the full, less cryptic version. There is another Toronto-area blogger whose blog I read and who reads my blog. We both wrote for an earlier version of Mommy Blogs Toronto, yet did not cross paths physically that I knew of. And then one of her posts this past week made me realize that I know her. Through our kids, of course. And I felt like a bit of an idiot, because, dur, she signs her posts with her first name and mentions her kids' relative ages and a number of other little details. And then I think, "Has she figured out who I am? And, if she has, is she now convinced I'm a bit slow?"

I shouldn't be so surprised. Given the number of Toronto-based parenting blogs I read and my multiple connections with the university community (including some aspects of Scooter's life), I should have expected the two groups to overlap. Really, I'm just glad it's not a former (or parent of a former) student!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

You can't go home again

The theme of this trip for me has been the reminder that this is no longer home. A number of things have made me long for a return to our previous life, but I have also been aware that this is most definitely not my existence anymore. And we have done more this year that mimics old patterns, so it has been quite obvious.

Yesterday, after a quick stop at our favorite coffee shop (including the purchase of 5 pounds of our beans), we visited the retail center of our old neighborhood, a place we used to walk to regularly in good weather. We parked in the parking garage, drove up to a slightly higher level, knowing we would easily find a space while other people trolled around lower levels to fight over parking spaces. Trips to Whole Foods and the bookstore to get a few items we can't find in Toronto (or are ridiculously cheaper in the States). Walk to the subway to go downtown. Train ride into the city, watching out the window and pointing out the same old areas and new developments, comparing our expectations with the new reality.

Our first stop in the city was my old school. Our visit coincided with a fun school event, so I decided it would be a good way to catch up with a few people at once. I saw a student I first taught in 6th grade--6th grade!--driving by. I talked to several old students who are just now finishing their junior years; one more and they graduate! I ran into a friend and former colleague who I had heard was going to be moving to our neck of the woods... and found out they have just signed a lease on a place a block from where we live. She and several other people I liked working with are leaving at the end of this school year. I didn't recognize more than half the students there (since more come to this event from the lower grades). We didn't stay very long, and after we were off to our next destination, I said to Trillian, "I think I'm done with [the school]." It was great to see the students, and I was particularly touched by the reception I received from a student I taught in three different years, who struggled greatly in my class, yet bounded up and gave me a huge hug. But they're not my students anymore.

After visiting a couple more places, we headed back to the retail center to get a snack at our favorite Mediterranean place and then cupcakes for dessert. And then before driving back to our friend's house, we did something we had avoided last year--we drove by our old house. When we had sold it, we were pretty sure the buyers were going to add onto it and then try to flip it. We imagined them driving heavy machinery over the garden we were growing in the side yard. And painting over the distinctive colors. But there it was, pretty much as we left it. Same colors, no major changes--though the fence had been fixed and our rose bush was gone. That last one hurt a bit--the rose bush Trillian's mother sent us when we bought the place with its riots of enormous peach blossoms--but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Because it's not our house anymore.

There's a part of us that would love to move back here and try to pick up where we left off. But we also know it wouldn't be the same and that there are plenty of problems we'd face (Trillian right now is saying that she would die from the pollen and that is reason enough not to move back).

So we head back tomorrow to the life we have right now. It's not the life we had three years ago and not the one we'll have three years from now. Toronto's still not home, but right now it's more home than any other place I can label on a map.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Searching for meaning

With all of my recent focus on my exams, I had kind of blocked the fact that we're going away for the weekend--a now annual trip back to where we were living before packing it up for Canada. We'll be staying with a friend and going to an activity at my old school, plus several touristy sorts of things. I really am looking forward to all of it--except the fact that I desperately need to pack now.

So a fairly easy post tonight and one I've been thinking about writing for awhile. Time for a look at the searches that bring people (other than my usual readers) here. I've decided to break it down by category.

  1. Mice and their nests. Still the most common search at almost 50%, though I think there are two subgroups: those who have unwanted pests and those who have caged pets. I can't always tell which intent is guiding the searcher, but the difference is clearer when considering strings like "mouse in couch" and "material to give mouse for nest."
  2. Environmental. My "Global Warming Wednesday" posts bring me up for a number of searches. Three topics in particular are recurring: bisphenol A free plastics, grocery bags (plastic, canvas, string all get hits), and clothing material (particularly Modal and Tencel). If they're getting the info they need from my posts, I hope that the links get them what they're after.
  3. Battlestar Galactica. Now I haven't written that much on BSG, despite my particular fondness (read: borderline obsession) with it. I have to admit that it fills me with glee to discover that I am the #4 site for the search "tigh cylon," which is in fact a search I see a couple times a week. And yes, I'm still trying to figure out how that's possible and am not sure I can wait until January 2008 for answers! Right now I'm thinking about watching a couple episodes a week, from the beginning, again.
  4. Pregnancy. In particular, I get hits on "slow rising hcg." I don't come up until the 5th page of this search, but it doesn't surprise me that people looking for this information look through so many pages. I did too when this happened during my pregnancy with Scooter--and there was almost no helpful information on this topic online at the time. Everything I read pointed to miscarriage, but Scooter's still here, more than 4 years later. Of course, these searchers usually end up on one of my posts from the miscarriage I just had, and I feel obligated to point out that I have no idea about the change in my HCG levels during that pregnancy.
  5. Misc. What more should I say about things like "toronto western horrible" (I actually wasn't saying Toronto Western was horrible, though I didn't particularly want to deliver there) and "crocs sweaty" (they certainly can be). But the one that takes the cake? "coloring pages book of revelations," which landed the searcher on a short post about the cake I was going to make for Scooter's birthday. Apparently "coloring pages" matched up with my discussion of loot bags for his classmates; the other part came from a long, rambling comment by some crazy. I have to wonder what the searcher thought upon finding him/herself reading the blog of a lesbian atheist!
P.S. I will have some internet access on my trip, but am not sure how much I will be posting. What's the etiquette for posting on a blog from the house of a friend who doesn't know about the blog?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Global Warming Wednesday:

OK, so I'm still a bit wiped from all that studying and exam writing, so no major research today. Instead, I want to share some pages I've been enjoying.

No Impact Man is spending a year attempting to have the least environmental impact he can manage. He and his family live in New York City and are doing things like turning off their power (with a solar panel to power the laptop he's blogging with), eating local foods only, and walking or biking everywhere. When I first heard about the project, I thought the blog might be a bit preachy, but he really avoids a condescending tone. He doesn't expect everyone to follow suit and didn't even intend to publicize this at first, but I'm glad he has because there are plenty of small ideas that are part of his site.

I continue to enjoy Lighter Footstep. In particular, I like their tendency to present topics with a handy list of 5 suggested actions. Even when a list doesn't particularly fit my situation, I can see how I can adapt suggestions or feel a bit encouraged if I'm already doing something.

More Toronto/Ontario specific, I've been reading about the growth of organics and an organic farm that has also gone off the grid. Now I really want to hit the farmers' markets and local co-ops!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The breezes of spring

This morning was grumpy. There was a touch of chill in the air and it couldn't decide if it was going to rain again. A little cloudy and gloomy--a perfect match for my mood as I headed into my final day of exams for the semester. I was tired, sleep-deprived, tightly wound; my mind was swimming with facts, and I was obsessing over the number of things I had not covered that might be on the exam.

Three hours of exam later, several questions over what I had not done, but not so many I couldn't exclude them from the questions I did answer. I don't think I made any mistakes, though I have yet to check the one I waffled about. I spent the hour afterwards talking to a friend, eating my lunch and skimming the chapter I was scheduled to teach this afternoon. The worst of the mood passed, but I still felt weighed down.

Then I headed outside to get to my class. Into a bright, sunny, warm day. As I exited my department building, I caught a whiff of lilac, a smell of spring--gentle, happy, alive! And the exhilaration of having completed another major task hit me. Suddenly it was easy to get through two hours of teaching, even with minimal preparation. And I started to realize that maybe my summer schedule (teaching four afternoons a week, plus two hours of fitness courses a week, and some therapy for Scooter) was not nearly as oppressive as I had imagined before--funny how time opens up when there aren't exams filling up all one's time with studying and the actual writing. And I found myself thinking, there will be time to do the part of my comps I'm setting for myself this summer.

After a quick stop by the library to pick up a couple books on my primary author--reading not for a specific class!--I went over to Scooter's school. We were walking over to the garage, enjoying the breeze and warm sun. "Can I get some ice cream?" he asked, and I agreed. "Can I eat my ice cream on the bench?" he asked. I started to suggest that we take it to the car, but the beautiful sky beckoned and the smokers had all left the area, so I agreed to that to. I sat and watched as he thoroughly enjoyed an ice cream sandwich. I thought about how much older he looks in his new haircut, how confident he was in handling himself and the food, what a neat person he is. And I appreciated the opportunity to slow down and just breathe.


I am now at a turning point in my program. I had been working on Stages 1 and 2 simultaneously, Stage 1 being some core courses with highly proscribed content intended as a foundation and Stage 2 being made up of seminars. Because of the time I had taken off from school and my particular preparation, I was ahead in some ways and needed to go back to some even earlier courses for other things. And so for two years I have been working on both Stages simultaneously. The simultaneous part is not entirely unheard of, as many people end up overlapping for one year and then take 2 1/2 years to complete both parts, but doing both for such a long time is unusual. It also means I'm finishing them at the same time and now moving onto my comps. OK, technically, I have one more seminar to take, but it's fairly standard, due to scheduling concerns and the seminars available, to push one seminar into this time; in fact, I won't be taking my last seminar until Spring 2008, because none of those scheduled for the Fall fit into my interests and needs.

To put it more succinctly, I find this afternoon that I have magically jumped into an advanced stage of my program without entirely knowing how I got here. It is both exhilarating and daunting at the same time!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

A hair cut

"Mommy, that little girl is afraid of getting her hair cut."
"Well, so were you the first time you got yours cut."

That "little girl" was, in fact, my son. It was also not his first time getting his hair cut. He has had many, many since he was about a year old. And the main reason we ever cut his hair is not to correct gender perceptions, but because it starts getting into his eyes. This year it also coincides with the start of allergy season and our attempts to wash his hair every night so he's not carrying pollen and other allergens into bed with himself.

To be fair, this was only his second professional haircut. He cried a bit and complained loudly, but was overall much more agreeable than last time. His least favorite part remains having water sprayed on his hair. But our stylist this time was amazingly fast and confident. She cut off a lot of hair--it's been about 4 months since his last cut--and gave it a nice shape.

When I related the above conversation to Trillian (she was attending to Scooter while I studied in the waiting area), we both remarked that the new haircut should cut down on the perception that he's a girl. Then, just a little bit ago, I glanced over in his direction and realized that's not necessarily the case since, after a nap, his hair has settled into a cute, kicky pixie cut.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Sweet vindication

Scooter drinks more juice than he is "supposed" to. We once almost got into a fight about this with one of his pediatricians. She sternly told us that it didn't matter if we only gave him 100% juice, it all counted the same--not nutritious enough, too many calories, a cause of childhood obesity. And so we continued to allow our (nearly underweight) son to drink as much juice as he wanted, but now in secret and guiltily. We tried to mitigate the guilt by recognizing that he also drinks water and milk and that the juice we give him never has added sugar and is often organic. A part of me really did believe this reasoning, but I hated that pediatrician's condescension.

And then I read this today. Kids who drink 100% fruit juice are no more likely to be overweight than those who drink none. My favorite point:
In fact, children in the 2- to 3-year-old category who drank the most juice were nearly three times less likely to be overweight or at risk for overweight (sic) than children who drank no juice at all.
As well as this:
Nicklas and her colleagues also found that children who drank any amount of 100 percent juice ate less total fat, saturated fat, sodium, added sugars and added fats. Pure juice drinkers also had higher intakes of a number of key nutrients including vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, folate, vitamin B6 and iron. They also ate more whole fruits, like apples.
If I were just a little pettier, I would print out a copy of the article and send it to her. I won't go quite that far, but I will be shedding that motherly guilt when I pour my son's orange juice!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Global Warming Wednesday: Happy Birthday to Me!

In honor of my recent birthday, I have decided to count something I had already started to do as my action for the month. It's also been the most enjoyable one to date. And like last month's action (less plastic, especially glass for food), it serves the dual purpose of improving my family's health at the same time as the planet's. The action, you ask? Gardening.

More specifically, we've created an indoor area that gets good sun and are growing some vegetables and herbs (in addition to the lettuce in our Aerogarden). Officially, this isn't organic, but most of our seeds were organic seeds from Whole Foods. The potting soil definitely wasn't marked as organic, but we'll be figuring out natural fertilizer. We have also potted all food-producing plants in terra cotta or other non-plastic containers. So we don't have to worry about too many chemicals and can enjoy the most local produce possible.

Next week, I'll look at issues like fertilizer more specifically, but the other way this post honors my birthday is by letting me off the hook of actual research!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Treading water

Just a short breather from exams--grading some and preparing for others.

I have never had to grade so many of the same item before (1 of 2 TAs for a 300-person class), and it reminds me of how little I would want to lecture to such a large group. It's hard to think of these students as individuals as I try to get through each answer as quickly as possible so I can get back to my own work. I have never felt quite like this before--it's quite divorced from my teaching philosophy, but it should be the last time I have to do this.

And then I've got my major exam of the semester in just over a week. With the pregnancy first and then the miscarriage, I lost a good 2/3 of the time I might have been productive this semester. So I'm hoping I can make up for it/find the necesary shortcuts in this last week. I've taken similar exams before, so I can use that experience to prepare efficiently, but it's still a huge amount of work.

A complication for all of this is that I am teaching my own class this semester--the full year of what I taught this fall--and its first two days overlap with my exam. Luckily I've done some planning in my head and have taught the material I'll need for the first two days before. Then I can go back to being the sort of teacher I want to be.

Sandra over at Sunshine Scribe recently talked about getting caught up in the "as soon as" cycle. I strongly identify with that and recognize I'm in the middle of one. Of course, I have another one planned for when I finish the exam, really an overlap since teaching for the summer is part of that one (plus some work towards my comps, more therapy for Scooter, and some travel) and is set to go until mid-August. At which point, we're thinking of trying for a baby again and I'll head into the second phase of my comps (for which I will want to push through as much as I can before the spring semester--which will be the end of my comps, my last class, and possibly a baby and moving). I'm definitely in danger of too many shallow breaths--heck, I'm close to hyperventilating just typing that all.

And that is why, contrary to what might be common-sense, I'm adding something else... yoga. It doesn't start until my next crazy-making cycle, but maybe it will slow things down just enough.

But for now... time to hit some more caffeine and see how many more exams I can bear to read.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Venting about vents (and other things)

After yesterday's post about greening up condo-living and a mention of how higher density living leaves a smaller footprint, I feel the need to admit that Trillian and I fully intend to buy a single-family dwelling when we head back to the States. Now our goal will be to make our space as environmentally friendly as possible and have done research to this end. But we just can't stand living this close to so many other people and in a large building like this for too much longer. Neither of us is a city girl. Not that we want to live in the middle of nowhere, but both of us get antsy with so many people packed in around us.

So, for the sake of venting, here are a few of the complaints that didn't make my Wednesday post (mostly because they're no specifically green issues):
  • Living right up against neighbors. We only had one set for a while, but they appear to be university kids whose parents are footing the bill. Nothing wrong with that per se, but it's a clash of priorities and lifestyles. They're really nice about turning their music down at 1 am, but I don't think they realize how lucky they are that Scooter is such a heavy sleeper (he shares a wall with them; we only ask them to turn down music when we can hear it in our room, which is as far as possible from them).
  • There are also the people upstairs who have been doing some sort of drilling project for months-on-end (almost constantly for the first 9 months we were here and intermittently now). We finally got them to recognize that there are condo rules about when work can be done, so at least it's over by 8 pm and none on Sundays. Of course, now we wonder what exactly they're up to, a curiosity that has only been piqued by the almost (but not quite) rhythmic creaking that will go on at various times during the night.
  • Then we gained a second neighbor. Our balconies are connected and they use theirs to smoke. This is how we found out that our balcony door's seal is leaky, badly so. So we've had to tape garbage bags over that door and can't open up our bedroom window (one of three tiny ones in the entire apartment) unless we want all of our stuff to smell like smoke. And tonight we discovered that smoke from somewhere else was drifting into Scooter's room. So that window's closed for now too. Which brings me to...
  • Heating and cooling. We don't determine when we switch from one to the other. This is a modern building, designed to be climate-controlled entirely from the inside. Over the past month, when we've had sunny days, our apartment heats up to 80+ degrees (over 26.5 Celsius), even when we keep the drapes shut. And so we have three small windows and one balcony door to create ventilation for the entire apartment--except that it's not enough and we can't open two of those now anyway because of the smoking next door.
  • A fire alarm that goes off regularly for no reason, or at least not for a fire yet. Apparently anytime the water pressure drops a little in the system, that's enough to set it off. One time, it was set off by a drop in pressure in another building in the complex. It's not a good mix with Scooter's noise sensitivities. The last time was at 3 something in the morning, and so we bundled up and headed out into the rainy night with a sobbing child.
  • And the no stairs, no green bin, no appliance choice stuff really does bug me too.
- - - - -
In other news, I'm done with both papers and one exam. There's still a lot on my plate and we're dealing with some big changes on the job front for Trillian, so things haven't exactly settled down. But I do enjoy checking things off of my list. Posting will remain inconsistent (in quantity and quality), but two weeks and we'll be getting back to normal.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Global Warming Wednesday: Urban brainstorming

A quick and dirty post this week since I've got an exam tomorrow. I'm also not going to be throwing any links at you or a whole lot of scientific fact. Instead, I want to present you with some of the ideas that pop up in conversation with Trillian as we look at Toronto and think about ways so much more energy could be saved and the urban environment otherwise greened.

All of the condo developments can actually be a good thing in an urban environment. By concentrating population density, resources aren't as spread out and people generally shouldn't need to travel as far for work, shopping, and play. There is also an opportunity to build environmentally-friendly items in from the beginning, though this does not seem to happen as often as it should.

A couple observations based on our current living situation (stepping on soap box now):
  • The city and the condos need to figure out how to implement the green bin program inside high-density complexes. For those not in Toronto, the green bin is part of waste collection and covers organic waste. I was very impressed with it when we had it in our first place, as it includes many items that one generally should not compost (e.g., diapers, pet waste, meat, and dairy). As things are set up now, composting is nearly impossible and I am saddened by how much of our weekly garbage (probably half of the large garbage bag we throw out) could and should be going somewhere other than the landfill.
  • There really should be a way for residents to use the stairs when they only need to go a few floors--and it probably could have been designed so as not to compromise security. In our building, there is no staircase accessible from the lobby. All stairs are fire stairways and therefore dump outside the building. Those doors cannot be opened from the outside (without security's key), so it's not an option at all when coming in from the lobby. The stairwells from parking do not connect with the stairwells from the residential floors, so it's also impossible to just bypass the ground floor. We live on a lower floor, and it is quite ridiculous that we always have to use the elevator. I would actually like the extra exerciseof taking the stairs and it would save on energy.
  • All appliances should be Energy-Star compliant at the least. I'm pretty sure our washer-dryer combo isn't, though I think some of our kitchen appliances are. As renters, we have no say on those, so I'm gritting my teeth and bearing it. But you'd better believe I'm counting down the days until we can get another front-loading clothes washer (less water, less energy, and better cleaning!).
  • Especially since so many condos have underground parking, it would make sense for more of them to look at geothermal heating and cooling. They're already digging down, just dig a little deeper. OK, probably not a possibility for the condos right on the lake, though I think there are options in those cases for tapping the icy cold waters of the lake for cooling purposes.
  • Similarly, solar water heaters would make so much sense on the roofs of these buildings. They're not going to get shaded by other buildings for the most part, and I don't think most of those roofs are used space anyways, so harness what you can from the sun. It might not meet all of the building's hot water needs, but it would certainly accomplish something.
  • Or, how about more green roofs. Trillian, Scooter, and I were walking this past weekend and saw a mid-sized building with trees peeking out over the top railing. Nice, full trees. And I noticed another nearby building with large blooming bushes this morning. There's a way to boost the green cover in the city! For those buildings whose roofs might actually be used by residents, how nice would it be to have a sort of mini-park right there?
  • And finally, solar panels. OK, so Toronto can be pretty gray, especially during the winter. But when it is sunny, these buildings could be pulling in large amounts of electricity. Again, it's unlikely the production would be enough to power an entire building, but every bit captured from the sun is energy that doesn't have to be produced elsewhere. Pair that with energy-saving building and appliances, and there might be a significant drop in energy demand for those particular buildings.
  • This can also be taken in a more futuristic direction: all sorts of new solar cells are in development. One can be spray-painted onto surfaces. When I think about all of those south-western (in particular) exposures on these tall buildings and how much surface area there is (even just on the metal elements if none of the windows could be yielded or the spray couldn't be translucent), that's a lot of potential for energy capture.
So there are a handful plus ideas. Yes, it will cost money for changes to be made, but I think (or at least hope) that most people can see that the money needs to be spent now in order to avoid shortages and catastrophes later that will be even more expensive and cost us in ways well beyond money.

(putting soap box back into storage, though not where I can't reach it easily)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Because that's the kind of sister I am

My youngest sister has a blog--or rather, she posts sporadically on LiveJournal. She doesn't know that I know about the blog (or I don't know that she knows that I know about her blog). I found it easily enough in a search on a stage name she once created for herself. It's not even like she puts much of anything up there that she wouldn't tell me eventually. We don't talk a ton, but catch up via IM from time-to-time, something that's complicated by the combination of being in different time zones and the hours she keeps.

So I've got a little experiment going right now. I wrote to my sister to tell her that Trillian is considering a job with a new company that has headquarters in the city where she lives right now and that we eventually look at moving there--all true, although one of the things that will play a role in our final decision is how strongly they encourage us to move there vs. allowing telecommuting from the place (near Trillian's parents) that we've kind of set our hearts on. My main motivation for sending this email? To see if she makes mention of this development on her blog.

In all reality, whether or not the thought of my living near her gives her the chills, I would be concerned about maintaining proper boundaries. I am enough older than she is that our relationship walks the line between sister and parent, a situation that was muddied even more by the role I took on after our father's death. Living near her would not qualify as having family support nearby, not in the way living near Scooter's grandparents would. Not only does she not particularly like kids--she has declared she will have no children and truly strikes me as someone who will not change her mind--she also smokes (a variety of things) and has a very unpredictable schedule. And I would have to fight my instinct to take too great an interest in what she's up to, something I manage now mostly because distance makes it too difficult.

(OK, totally intended this to be a laugh-at-my-snarkiness post, but I've begun to hit a nerve on my familial relationships. I am too exhausted to go there right now, so I'll leave it for the present.)

I have decided

...that invigilating a three-hour exam in an auditorium-style classroom counts as my exercise for the day. Sure it wasn't sustained cardio, but during those three hours I was probably up and down the stairs at least 50 times, moving for at least half the time, and standing for the rest.

...that "invigilate" is a funny word. A friend of mine has suggested that invigilators be called "invigilantes" since we'll be going over those cheaters. Of course, "proctor," the term I used in the States, is a pretty funny word too. (Insert proctologist joke here.)

...that I should have worn socks with my Crocs. Sweaty feet + Crocs material = squeaking.

...that I need to reassess some of my gender assumptions. Over the course of three hours, two women went to the bathroom; I lost count of the number of men. The male invigilator spent more time escorting students to the bathroom than in the classroom itself.

...that university students are getting much younger. Because I refuse to recognize that I'm aging.

...that I'm going to stay up for another hour or two and try to finish my second paper (aside from a few footnotes I'll need to track down in the library). Yes I'm exhausted, but staying active until so late means I won't be able to sleep for at least that long.

...that this counts as a Monday post since I wrote most of it in my head in between students' questions.