Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Who's another year older?

G isn't just having a birthday this year -- she's having an entire birthday week.

On her actual birthday, which was last Thursday, we went to Rainforest Café for an evening of dinner, crazy balloon hats and singing waiters. ("This is the best birthday ever!" said G, as she prepared to dig into her massive Volcano sundae cake.) Then, on Saturday, we had her party. There were nine kids altogether, including G and her toddler cousin, and they had a great time playing Pin the Lid on the Teapot and running relay races with sugar cubes and teaspoons. We're supposed to go to my mother's house for one more celebration this weekend, and then we're done until next year.

In other news, my plans to take G to a planetarium are being thwarted. The nearest big planetarium is closed for renovations until sometime later this year, and the next-closest one only offers shows on the first Wednesday night of each month. Since it's a good two-hour drive, it would be impossible to get there and come back at a decent hour. There's a smaller planetarium in our immediate area, but as far as I can tell, they only do daytime shows for groups, which is useless if you have one kid and are trapped at work all day. Grrr, arrgh.

Anyway, I made the mistake of telling G that we were going to see a star show sometime soon -- and after seven years of this parenting gig, I really ought to have known better -- so of course when she got up this morning she thought we were going today, and was miffed that we weren't. Luckily, she's a kid with a lot of interests, and by the time we arrived at school, she was too busy talking about Egypt to think about the sky. She said that next year, she wants to have a backpack with hieroglyphics on it so no one but her will know what it says. I don't know if I'm up to stitching hieroglyphics on a Jansport, but I told her we might be able to get some fabric paint and make a T-shirt that spells out her name. She also said she wants her room decorated in Egyptian style. That isn't going to happen, because we've been slowly redecorating her room in purple for the last few months and we're almost finished, but it reminded me of when I was 8 and wanted a Japanese bedroom with mats and sliding screens. (I had just read James Clavell's Shogun.) I guess that sort of thing runs in the family.

One thing that does not run in the family, unfortunately, is a love of math. G has done well enough in math so far, but she says it's hard, and approaches it with a martyred attitude. Since P and I aren't math people either, we have trouble explaining it in a way she can understand. I dread the day when she gets to volume and area. I still remember sitting at the kitchen table, big tears rolling down my face and plopping onto diagrams of cylinders and cubes, while my dad said through gritted teeth, "If you'd just calm down and pay attention, you'd be able to do this!" But I never could. Woe.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Once, in a long-ago college astronomy class, I had to give a presentation on the constellation Orion. (You should've seen my l33t visual aid -- silver glitter glued onto black posterboard!) I've forgotten nearly everything else I learned in that class, but I can still find Orion. So, a few nights ago, I pointed the good ol' Hunter out to G, and ever since then she's been fascinated with the night sky. Yesterday we read a book on stars and planets, and tonight we put on our coats and went outside to stargaze. I had a map I'd printed off a Web site, so we identified all the stars we could from that, and then G decided to take some notes in her notebook. She drew a little dot-to-dot diagram of Orion, who was conveniently positioned right above our front doorstep at the time, and underneath it she wrote "Orion is an awesome constalashion." I'll have to take her to a planetarium to see a show while she's still interested in this.

On a less pleasant note, I tripped over nothing in the Target parking lot and totally munched it on one of those raised concrete islands. One minute I was walking along, and the next, blam, I hit the ground with a teeth-rattling thud. I was up and moving again in an instant, trying to look casual (no, really, I thought I saw a penny and went for it, you know how that is ...), but now my knees are all scraped and sore. Gah.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Where's the party?

I am a terrible party planner. I start out with good intentions, but as the big day draws closer, I develop a sort of party paralysis and become unable to do anything remotely related to the party itself. It's like being in college and knowing that you at least ought to start outlining that 30-page term paper, and then thinking Nah, I'll just take a nap instead. And then dust my bookshelves. And maybe alphabetize them ... by author's last name ... in genres.

If you're thinking that this approach causes a lot of unnecessary stress, you're right. G's birthday party is on Saturday, and predictably, I'm nowhere near done getting ready. We invited fourteen kids, including G's cousin: of those, five are definitely coming, two are definitely not coming, and the other seven are still unknown. Plates and cups and whatnot should be coming in from Birthday Express tomorrow, and G and I went out tonight and got craft stuff the kids can do, plus some little Chinese-takeout-style boxes that I'm going to stuff with candy. (We have no good place for a pinata, though people who have been to past parties may remember the year I dared to let a bunch of four-year-olds break one in my living room.) Still on my to-do list: go to the grocery store, do the baking, collect the materials I need for games, find someone who owns a teapot and will let me borrow it, get balloons blown up and streamers hung, and have a nervous breakdown.

Oh, wait. Maybe I should cross off that last item.

In other news, P and G are still fighting off coughs. G is at the stage where she's fine during the day, but starts coughing uncontrollably an hour or two after she goes to sleep. (I can hear her coughing as I type this.) P has been coughing day and night for two weeks. He's had to sleep in other rooms for the last few nights because the power of his cough would probably knock me out of the bed. Neither of them are sick anymore, but they're not happy either. I hope they're able to get past this last bit soon, especially P. The poor guy is worn out.

Prepare to go crazy

This Mensa intelligence test had me racking my brains earlier today. The first 20-odd answers came pretty easily, but I sweated over the rest to reach my final total of 28/33.

Like most so-called intelligence tests, this one is culturally biased, so people who live outside the U.S., Europe or the British Isles should not despair if they get fewer than 19 correct. Just have fun!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Hack hack hack

This morning I woke up early to the sound of G's coughing. I thought she was coughing in her sleep, but when I went to her room to check, she was sitting on her bed, reading The Big Book of Questions and Answers. I asked her whether she wanted to come to my room or have me stay in hers, and she said "Stay here," so I gave her a Triaminic cough strip, crawled into bed next to her, and went back to sleep. I assume she either continued to read or got up and played, because I didn't hear from her again for another hour and a half, when she poked me and said "Hey, I'm getting hungry."

After her waffles, she watched some National Geographic videos and then decided to help me by dusting the bookshelves. When a feather fell out of the duster, she picked it up and tried it in her hair, then changed her mind and wanted to see if she could write with it like a quill pen. We didn't have any liquid ink, so she used purple poster paint instead. Then she said wistfully that she wished she could paint with a paintbrush, and nearly did backflips with excitement when I said she could. (Getting to paint is a "Hallelujah Chorus" moment around here, since P has a low tolerance for messes and usually discourages any activity that's likely to cause one.) She painted happily for half an hour or so while I continued my cleaning odyssey, then decided to watch the creepiest show EVER "Oobi" and color instead.

The rest of the day was quiet. P, who was recovering from an early-morning migraine, spent most of it sleeping. G and I read all of Jigsaw Jones: The Case of the Mummy Mystery, and then she played computer games while I read a book of my own. Once I'd packed her off to bed, I went to Target and looked fruitlessly for birthday gifts to give her. She already has enough toys, books and DVDs to open her own store, and whatever she didn't have already she got for Christmas, so I'm at a bit of a loss. I don't want to buy her stuff just to buy it -- it's a waste, and she doesn't really appreciate it. She wanted one of those electronic talking globes a while ago, so maybe I'll get her a globe and a couple of new outfits for spring. That should be plenty.

On that note, I think it's time to weed out her closet and shelves again. I just missed an opportunity to send clothes to the Philippines -- most of her outgrown stuff goes there to be donated -- but at least I can pack them up for next time.

Vegetarian FAQ

As most of my real-life friends and family know, I'm vegetarian and have been for more than 15 years. Being vegetarian is much more mainstream than it once was. However, I still get asked the same questions over and over by people who have just found out I don't eat meat, so I thought I'd answer some of those questions here. If nothing else, I can send future querents the link. :-)

Why are you vegetarian?

I never liked meat when I was little -- my parents begged me to eat my meat the way other kids' parents beg them to eat their vegetables. I ate it grudgingly when I had to, but I found ways to avoid it whenever I could. (I remember getting in trouble when I was in kindergarten for hiding a piece of steak in one of my shiny black dress-up shoes.) When I was around 17 or 18, I realized that I was old enough to choose the diet I wanted, so I stopped eating meat and never looked back.

Over the ensuing years, I've also come to understand all the ethical and health-related reasons for being vegetarian, which is why I've brought my daughter up that way. Now that she knows where meat comes from and what it means, she's free to make her own decisions about whether or not to eat it. As for me, I can't imagine ever putting a piece of meat in my mouth again, though I'm sure I could find a better place for it now than my shoe.

I have a friend who's vegetarian, but she eats chicken.

She's not vegetarian.

I have a friend who's vegetarian, but he eats shrimp.

He's not vegetarian either.

So vegetarians don't eat any meat at all, ever?

No. Vegetarians don't eat beef, pork, chicken, turkey, lamb, rabbit, fish or any other animal -- as my husband says, "nothing that had eyes when it was alive." (Shellfish count, as does any apparently eyeless alien creature you may have managed to hunt down and harpoon.)

Vegetables are alive too.

Yes, they are, but everyone has to eat something, and I'm not going to starve to death over semantics.

Do vegetarians eat anything that comes from animals?

It depends on the vegetarian. Some eat eggs and dairy products; some eat dairy but not eggs. Vegans don't consume any animal products at all, including eggs, dairy and honey, and are also likely to avoid wearing leather and using products tested on animals.

Which one of those are you?

I started out lacto-ovo (dairy and eggs), was vegan for about a year during college, and am currently lacto-ovo again.

You must eat a lot of salads.

Not any more than the average person. I like salad just fine, but I don't want to have it at every meal.

What do you eat then?

I eat what everyone else eats, but without the meat. If we're eating sandwiches and you have ham, I'll have cheese or peanut butter. If we're having Mexican food, I'll have beans instead of beef in my burrito, or I'll order a quesadilla. It's really that simple. I also like the more esoteric vegetarian foods, like tofu and tempeh, but you could eat dinner at my house with no fear of encountering something unfamiliar.

How do you get your protein?

From food, the same way you do. A woman my age and size only needs about 40-50 grams of protein a day, and since most foods contain at least some protein, it's very easy to reach this requirement just by eating normal meals. For vegetarians who eat eggs and dairy products, it's even easier. Protein deficiency is very, very rare in developed countries -- anyone who's eating enough food is probably getting plenty of protein, unless he or she is living on Pop-Tarts, Cheetos and Dr. Pepper.

Do you have to take vitamins?

Not unless I want to. Fruits and vegetables contain a huge variety of vitamins. Beans, tofu and dark leafy greens contain iron, as do a lot of commercially produced cereals. Vegans can sometimes become deficient in vitamin B12 because it's only found in animal products, but it takes years for that to happen, and it's easy to prevent. I'm not vegan anymore, so B12 isn't a concern for me.

Will you get mad/offended/nauseated if I eat meat in front of you?

No. As far as I'm concerned, if you don't harass me about my diet, I have no reason to harass you about yours. I'm not keen on the smell of meat cooking, but by the time it's on your plate, it's not a problem. However, my tolerance does not extend to taunting, so please don't shove turkey legs in my face or try to force a forkful of steak into my mouth. (You think I'm kidding, but these things do happen.)

I don't know how you do it. I could never give up meat.

Since I never liked meat, not eating it is a relief, not a sacrifice.

I hardly eat beef anymore.

That's nice.

(I don't know why people feel compelled to tell me this ... maybe they think it'll defuse some of my vegetarian wrath?)

Do you want to force me to stop eating meat?

No. I'd be thrilled if the whole world were vegetarian -- health and environmental impact aside, think of all the restaurant options I'd have! -- but I'm not out to convert anyone. I will gladly tell you all the reasons meat is nasty if you ask me, though. :-)

That's all I can think of for now. Any other questions?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Asinine advertising

While doing laundry just now, I noticed that our bottle of Cheer Dark Formula detergent (a.k.a. Goth Wash) has a label that trumpets "25 Percent More Than 80 Ounces!" That is one of the most meaningless marketing statements I've ever seen, and I've seen a lot. If it said "25 Percent More Than 80-Ounce SIZE," that would be great, but saying that 100 ounces is 25 percent more than 80 ounces is a math problem, not a benefit. To look at it another way, if I had three cookies and you gave me one, then I would have 25 percent more cookies than I started with. If I had four cookies, I would have 25 percent more than someone with three cookies, but it wouldn't make any difference to me because I'd have four cookies one way or the other. Unless you can show me that I'm getting more of something than I otherwise would, I'm not impressed.

In other news, G woke up sniffly yesterday, and by the time we got home from her play rehearsal last night, she had a full-fledged snotter of a cold. She hasn't been sick at all since Halloween, so we're actually doing a lot better in that department than last year. Still, it's never fun to be under the weather.

She was still feeling poorly this morning, so I let her skip ballet and lie around in her pajamas much longer than usual. She and I watched TV together, played a game of checkers, and then played with her word tiles for a while. (Hers don't look exactly like the ones in the link, but they're very similar.) I bought the set when I was teaching her about onsets and rimes, and even though she learned them all a long time ago, she still likes to stick the tiles together to make different words.

I was planning to go to the library alone this afternoon, but G seemed better by then, so we all packed up and went together. She got a book on capybaras (like giant hamsters that swim) and one on beavers, plus four or five books about Jigsaw Jones and Nate the Great. Detectives are very big in our house. Even if I were the sort of person to commit a crime, I'd never get away with it -- G would whip out her notepad and magnifying glass and bust me in no time. :-)

While we were there, I also got a couple of books on Anglo-Saxon England and the Vikings for myself. I already have a passing acquaintance with both, but I need to learn more for a project I'm hoping to start this summer. In a weird way, it depresses me to look at all the history books on the library's shelves. I love history, but there's so much of it, and I know that even if I did nothing but read every day for the rest of my life, I could still never learn it all. I'm barely educated on the time periods I studied in college and have been reading about for years, never mind all the ones I still want to understand.

I once saw a Peanuts cartoon in which Charlie Brown said "The more I learn, the more I learn how much I have to learn." That about sums it up.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


I've just come from G's bedroom, where she and I tried to top each other in extravagant declarations of affection.

"You're my favorite girl," I said.

"You're my favorite mom," she said.

"I love you more than all the stars in the sky," I said.

"I love you more than all the planets in space," she said, "and my love is as powerful as the sun."

Wow. That's a whole lotta love!

The good, the bad and the bookish

Bad: My iBook's wonky screen finally gave out two weeks ago.
Good: I have AppleCare.
Bad: I didn't register the plan when I bought it.
Good: Apple will still let me register it, even though my original warranty has expired.
Bad: It'll take 10-12 business days for the coverage to go into effect and at least another week after that for them to fix my screen.
Good: I'll get my computer back sometime in early- to mid-February.
Bad: Early- to mid-February!!!

Peter has been graciously letting me use his desktop, so I'm not completely cut off from the world, but it isn't the same. I love my iBook. I write much better on it than on any other computer, and I feel like I've lost an appendage without it. *sob*

So what have I been doing to while away the long, computerless winter nights? Mainly reading -- a lot of Terry Pratchett; a few of Alexander McCall Smith's books about Precious Ramotswe, the African lady detective; and a bit of the Chronic (what?) les of Narnia, which G's uncle sent her for Christmas. I'm also reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to G at bedtime. She loves it, though she keeps asking why we're reading that one first when it's labeled no. 2 in the set. (It's because the publisher renumbered the books to go in chronological order rather than the order in which they were written, but this Narnia traditionalist is not down with that, yo.)

As far as G's own reading, the book she's reading aloud to me at bedtime is Pirates Past Noon, number four in the Magic Treehouse series. She's also got Superfudge in the car and is reading a bit of it every time we drive somewhere. Pirates Past Noon is grade level 2.2, which is easy for her, and Superfudge is 3.5, which is hard but not impossible, so between the two of them she's got a nice mix of comfortable and challenging.

I've been buying far too many books lately, which is not a good habit to get into. (Well, it's a good habit in that books are good, but not so good in that it causes a sharp pain in my wallet.) I really need to get to the library so I can stock up for free. We usually go every two weeks, but the last month and a half has been so busy that we've only been once, and that was a tire-screeching stop at which we stuffed our books into the outside return slot and drove away again. Hopefully we'll have time for a real visit this weekend.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


G moved up into the big girls' class at her dance studio today. It's ballet for 7-10-year-olds, and it's much more intense than the combo ballet/tap class she's been taking. Where the 5-6-year-old class did things like painting imaginary pictures on the wall and dancing around with ribbons, this class went straight into barre exercises and didn't stop for a full hour. G's got some catching up to do -- the other girls in the class are a couple of years older than she is and have been dancing at this level for a lot longer -- but she's working hard at it. I could see her watching everyone else like a hawk and copying what they were doing, from the stretches to the actual steps. If she keeps that up, she'll do fine.

I will never stop being grateful for our dance school, by the way. G's very first dance experience was at a school that looked great -- big practice rooms! lots of windows! women with rigid posture and tightly wound hair! -- but turned out to be run like a Russian gulag. Discipline is one thing, but when you're screaming "Left! I said turn LEFT! DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?" at a terrified preschooler, you've crossed the line. The child was five! I'd signed her up for ballet so she could twirl in pink leotards and have a good time, not so she'd be too scared to go to her lessons.

Anyway, she's at a much nicer school now, with a teacher who actually knows how to work with kids. Her current teacher corrects the girls all the time, but she does it with kindness and humor, not abuse. I'll gladly pay for that.

Monday, January 02, 2006

The girl who ate Cleveland

G has got to be preparing for a massive growth spurt. There's no other explanation for her insatiable appetite over the last few days. Today she had three pieces of toast for breakfast, followed by a snack an hour later, followed by an entire cheese pizza at California Pizza Kitchen (more about that in a minute), followed by the last of yesterday's brownies, followed by three helpings of pasta with tomato sauce, a lot of buttered corn, and a plateful of apple slices. I expect to get up tomorrow morning and find that she's grown six inches overnight. Or possibly eaten her pillow.

So while G was mowing down her pizza at California Pizza Kitchen, I was busy having a spice-related near-death incident. I'm a big fan of that crushed red pepper they put out on the table at pizza restaurants, so I had given my Five Cheese and Fresh Tomato pizza a judicious sprinkling of it before I started to eat. The first bite was fine, but the second one went down the wrong way, and I assume (because all my higher thought processes ceased at this moment) that a flake or two of pepper must have gotten into my windpipe. I've never personally swallowed a live coal, but I'm pretty sure I know now what it would feel like: burning, coughing, gagging, burning, burning, burning, no breath, no voice, tears streaming, life flashing before my eyes. Every time I coughed or tried to talk, it got worse, and drinking soda didn't help either.

"Are you okay?" asked P and G, who had both stopped eating and were watching me with concern and not a little alarm.

NO! HELP! CALL AN AMBULANCE! I thought, but I choked out "Got ... to get ... water!" and staggered to the front counter. After two cups of ice water and a lot of deep breathing, I finally got the coughing and eye-watering under control, and eventually managed to eat some of my lunch. I didn't enjoy it much, though. That sort of thing will really wreck your appetite.

And on that note ends the holiday weekend. Back to work tomorrow. Ugh.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year!

In the fine tradition of my foremothers, I spent the first part of New Year's Eve cleaning like a mofo. Two years ago, we had a serious ant invasion in our pantry, and Peter had to rub chalk insecticide all around the edges of the shelves to stop it. The chalk's been in there ever since, and it drives me crazy. So, yesterday I pulled everything out of the pantry, washed all the chalk away, washed all the shelves (the grunge that came off! OMG, so traumatic!), threw out two trash bags' worth of dried-up falafel mix and half-empty cereal boxes, and put whatever was left over back in. It was so bare afterward that I called Pete into the kitchen, flung the pantry doors open dramatically, and moaned "How will we feed the children?" like Ma Joad.

During the second part of the evening, we ate pasta with pesto and finished watching The Two Towers. G didn't like this one as much as Fellowship of the Ring, probably because FotR's plot was a lot easier for her to follow -- it's a pretty straightforward story, whereas TTT is constantly jumping from one scene and subplot to another. She says she still wants to see the final movie in the trilogy, though, so we'll start that one when we have our family movie night on Friday. Yes, we are carefully grooming her to be a little sci-fi/fantasy dork, just like us. So?

Last night was also the first time G stayed up till midnight on New Year's Eve. She got a little sleepy around 10:45 -- unsurprisingly, since that's more than two hours past her usual bedtime -- but then found her second wind and was jumping around with excitement by the time midnight came. We counted down from 10 and wished each other a happy New Year, and then G said "I'll go change my calendar!" and tore off down the hallway to do just that. (She's been itching to put up her new 2006 calendar of border collies, but I said she had to leave last year's kitten calendar up until Jan. 1.) She got into bed around 12:15 and finally fell asleep just before 1. I thought she'd be a wreck this morning, but she managed to stay asleep until almost 10:30 and is quite chipper now. It'll be an early night for her tonight, though.