Sunday, May 31, 2009

All I want for Christmas ...

Our little Emily lost her first tooth this weekend in New Hampshire. She lost it at a Chinese restaurant. Unfortunately, little pieces of rice look like lost teeth, so we sifted through a lot of dirty rice pellets, but could not find the tooth. Emily was almost in tears until I explained that if she writes a letter to the tooth fairy explaining what happened, the tooth fairy will understand. So she wrote a short note: "Dear tooth fairy, I lost my tooth at a restaurant. Love, Emily." Short and sweet. I wonder what the going rate is these days? Well I'm sure the tooth fairy will figure it out.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Porky mouth

What's mother's day without a little drama?

My girls and I were almost two hours into a gorgeous hike on the woodsy trails at Mohonk Preserve, and were about twenty minutes from the parking lot when Wolfie, hundreds of feet ahead of us, let out a big yelp. "Wolfie! WOlfie!" No answer. I saw a ledge up ahead and a man who was hiking on his own called to me: "your dog is in a lot of pain - you need to get him to a vet." I expected the worst.

Wolfie came running up, shaking his head left and right and yelping, with an entire mouth and snout full of porcupine needles. His teeth were bared and I could see that his tongue and roof of his mouth were covered with quills. My dog is a hunter. He is a half German Shepard/half Husky and loves to pick on small rodents. He is fine with other dogs and people, but show him a mouse and he'll envision dinner. He leaves frequent gifts of small, dead animals for us on the front step to show that he accomplished something during the day. He probably chased the porcupine to his hole, and then reached his snout in for a big bite.

I wondered and worried whether my docile dog could become a vicious, aggressive animal when in pain. My girls were screaming and crying, and my first concern was to protect them. The thought of leaving Wolfie while I got them safely to the car crossed my mind. I couldn't take care of both the girls and the dog together with his unpredictable, slightly crazed behavior.

Fortunately, this hiker - Steve - was the greatest guy in the world. He offered to walk my girls back to the car while I dealt with the dog, got him on a leash and figured out what to do. They stayed about 50 yards ahead of me, and I could hear him explaining to them about porcupines and what happened to Wolfie, and telling them he would be fine. He really was a savior. I got Wolfie on the leash and walked with him slowly back to the car, trying to tell him in a soothing voice that he was going to be okay. His mouth was bleeding and he was not soothed in the least. I know that my words were effectively calming myself more than him. He looked like he wanted to eat me if that would solve his problems.

Finally got to the car, and he is literally salivating all over the place and barking. We nudged him into the hatch area of my tiny Honda Fit, and he immediately climbed over the backseats. He had to be tied to the inside of the car with his leash to prevent him from leaping over the seats again.

A rule of thumb that I learned from my mother is not to panic or express fear in front of your children. You must remain calm and keep emotions in check because your fear will just worsen their's. You do not raise your voice unless absolutely necessary. So, in a calm slightly happy voice I told the girls that they get to sit in the front seat today, and isn't that lucky? They looked pretty shaken but immediately ran to the front door and jumped in, squooshed in together on the front seat. I am pretty certain there is an "emergency" exception to the car seat rule and up front was way safer than in the back, notwithstanding the risk of airbag ignition.

After calling park rangers over and getting access to the locked phone box since there was no cell phone signal, while Steve sat with the girls, I reached the vet's emergency line. The office was closed but she was apparently tranquilizing several hundred cows at a nearby dairy farm and offered to tranquilize Wolfie at the barn and extract the quills.

The barn was full of 50-60 young calves and a couple chickens, who were exceedingly curious by the triage on their barnyard floor. Wolfie was a little shocked to be stared at by all those cows. He was so disoriented, and had to be sedated three times to relax him long enough to finish the quill extraction.

It took 2 hours to get the quills. This was a real participatory surgery. Three of us (including me) were armed with surgical tweezers, yanking at quills embedded in his tongue, gums, lips, and between teeth.

The Vet told me that porcupine quills migrate in the body and if they are not taken out immediately, they become embedded deeper in the skin. Eventually they enter the body completely and, if the dog is fortunate, they will disintegrate and be expelled from the body. But they could puncture organs and skin if the dog is not lucky.

Poor guy. We carried my tranquilized husky to the car and at home my neighbor and I carried him in.
I told Emily, who is 6 year old going on 40: "I hope Wolfie learned his lesson." Her answer: "I hope you learned your lesson mommy. You really need to keep him on a leash." Ok, lesson learned.

So.. happy mother's day.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Mother's Day story

Happy mother's day to all moms.
This story is written by a woman who described a conversation with her daughter about childbirth, and I received it when I just gave birth to my daughter almost five years ago. I loved it and have saved it in my drawer. It seems like a good day to share it.

We were sitting at lunch one day when my daughter casually mentions that she and her husband are thinking of starting a family. "We're taking a survey," she says half-joking. "Do you think I should have a baby?"

"It will change your life," I say, carefully keeping my tone neutral.

"I know" she says, "no more sleeping in on weekends, no more spontaneous vacations."

But that is not what I meant at all. I look at my daughter, trying to decide what to tell her. I want her to know what she will never learn in childbirth classes. I want to tell her that the physical wounds of child bearing will heal, but becoming a mother will leave her with an emotional wound so raw that she will forever be vulnerable. I consider warning her that she will never again read a newspaper without asking, "What if that had been MY child?" That every plane crash, every house fire will haunt her. That when she sees pictures of starving children, she will wonder if anything could be worse than watching your child die.

I look at her carefully manicured nails and stylish suit and think that no matter how sophisticated she is, becoming a mother will reduce her to the primitive level of a bear protecting her cub. That an urgent call of "Mom!" will cause her to drop a pie or her best crystal without a moment's hesitation. I feel that I should warn her that no matter how many years she has invested in her career, she will be professional derailed by motherhood. She might arrange for childcare, but one day she will be going to an important meeting and will think of something her baby did or said. She will have to use every ounce of discipline to keep from dropping her work responsibilities and running home, just to see her child and make sure she is all right.

I want my daughter to know that every day decisions will no longer be routine. That a five year old boy's desire to go the men's room rather than the women's at McDonald's will become a major dilemma. That right here, in the midst of clattering trays and screaming children, issues of independence and gender identity will be weighed against the prospect that a child molester may be lurking in the restroom. However decisive she may be at the office, she will second guess herself constantly as a mother.

Looking at my attractive daughter, I want to assure her that eventually she will shed the pounds of pregnancy, but she will never feel the same about herself. That her life, now so important, will be of less value to her once she has a child. That she would give up her life in a moment to save her child, but will also begin to hope for many more years to watch her child accomplish her own dreams.

I want her to know that a caesarean scar or stretch marks will become badges of honor.

My daughter's relationship with her husband will change, but not in the way she thinks. I wish she could understand how much more you can love a man who is careful to clean and diaper the baby or who never hesitates to play with his child and read to her. I think she should know that she will fall in love with him again for reasons she would now find very unromantic.

I want to describe to my daughter the exhilaration of seeing your child learn to ride a bike. I want to capture for her the joy and laughter of your own child when she touches the soft fur of a dog or cat for the first time.

My daughter's quizzical look makes me realize that tears have formed in my eyes.

"You'll never regret it," I finally say. Then I reached across the table, squeezed my daughter's hand and offered a silent prayer for her, and for me, and for all the mere mortal women who stumble their way into this most wonderful of callings.

All so true. Happy mother's day!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Four and a half minutes of fun with the B-52s

The B-52s are unusual. They play fun, hyped-up, fast and unusual fast-paced music that was hot in the 1980s and 1990s and they are still hot, though older. Their career culminated in a performance at the Paramount in Peekskill NY on May 5, 2009 when they got to meet Ray & Laura and Dennis & Judith, their #1 fans. It was a big high for the band-members.

Putting all joking aside, Fred Schneider, the lead singer, was slightly intrigued that Laura had to "do homework" by writing an essay using song titles, to win tickets from the newspaper. He asked me to email him the silly essay. Funny enough, Dennis installed a pool at his house in Woodstock a decade ago. So we personally enjoyed the full 4-1/2 minutes. I cannot speak for the band. But the visit was short; they were scheduled to be on-stage about five minutes after we arrived. They had a concert to play, a theater to rock. Fans to ignite into frenzied dance. In short, they fully delivered. It was all well worth it.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Random thoughts

1. A four year old has the prerogative to change her mind. If I have tried to teach my daughter anything it's to do what you say and say what you do. In her words, "no fibbing."

So, knowing this, I should have been skeptical when my daughter told me last month that she really, really wanted to play soccer on Saturday mornings and she promised to stick with it for six weeks. Yesterday was day one of soccer season. Fifteen minutes after it started she decided she absolutely hates soccer and the coach scared her. She refused to play and sat on the sideline with a pout. Nothing I could say would change her mind. So much for soccer.

2. There is a girl for every man, no matter how crazy he may be. Similarly, there is a race made for everyone to win. You just need to find that race. The mix depends on the competition, the season, the course, and the way you feel when you crawl out of bed in the morning. Yesterday my young brother found his race and won the ENTIRE Master's division at a 5K race. Congratulations! Savor that win.

3. If you grow a tomato yourself it will cost $64. That's adding up all the wood, the soil, the fencing, the shovels and wheelbarrows, and the organic heirloom seeds. But they taste better than Shoprite. And the memories that my children will have of working together in the garden are priceless.

4. You can diagnose minor illnesses on the internet and it will be accurate and save you time at the doctor's office. There are enough reliable websites listing symptoms and all sorts of useful information about every illness under the sun. Most people think you'll misdiagnose with the internet. But me, I swear by it.

5. Spring fever is physical and psychological. I feel hyper in the spring. Like dancing and singing. And bicycling and running. Everyone is outside and people are happy. All you want to do is stay outside and savor it. But the question I had is whether Southerners feel "spring fever?" Don't you need to experience two or three months of crappy winter weather to really feel physically and mentally changed in April? I think so. One month of "spring fever" justifies all the ice storms this winter.

6. Gatorade doesn't freeze as quickly as water. Lesson learned from a bike ride in the winter.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Living off the Grid

I just finished the book Farewell My Subaru by Doug Fine. It's his story of how a 30-something man from Long Island decided to rid his life of fossil fuels and reduce his so-called carbon footprint. He wanted to live completely on renewable sources of energy and, apparently he had no reason to stay in Long Island, so he transplanted to the New Mexico desert.

To take his experiment a step further than just moving across the country, Mr. Fine sold his Subaru station wagon and bought an American car with a diesel engine and had it converted to operate on vegetable oil. He installed solar panels to provide energy and electricity in the house and to pump water from his well. He created a solar system to heat the water. He bought goats that he gets milk from and makes ice cream. He was going to eat the goats for protein but he got too attached to the little fellers. So he bought some chickens for eggs and protein instead.

Fine has a good sense of humor. You can't take life too seriously when you have a car that smells like french fries. When you buy goats from a posting on Craigslist. And when your little chickens keep getting snatched in their toddler years by a hungry red-tailed hawk. Life might be more pure but it doesn't necessarily seem easy.

You have to hand it to this guy. He lives by his principles so he's not all talk. A man of action. It's one thing to keep the heat low, and avoid use of plastic bags from the supermarket, but a whole different ball of wax to completely give up any use of oil, gas and plastics and adopt farm animals.

Solar panels and/or a windmill are doable in the northeast. There's plenty of sunshine and more than enough wind. And tax credits make the idea financially palatable.

But the idea of buying a diesel car or truck and converting it to vegetable oil also intrigues me. Except that it's not as easy. A vegetable oil-powered car works only sporadically in the Northeast winter since the oil congeals in cold temperatures. The car's valves get plugged up and the engine needs to be warmed to something like 140 degrees to melt the oil so the car can run. And then you need to set aside a section of the garage or yard to filter out the french fries and onions from the oil before loading it into the tank. And disposing of the soggy fries? I haven't figured this out. The compost bin says "no fats." Soggy fries are pretty much all fat. And what with all this engine warming and fry-filtering, forget about being on time to work. So I admit, this is not on our "to do" list at this time.

It seems like a big project being THAT green. A little green is easy, a lot of green takes lifestyle changes. At least we try to be aware of conserving water and paper, avoiding plastic bags, keeping the heat low, solar-tinting the windows, recycling, buying fuel-efficient cars and organic dishwashing soap, and basically trying not to waste in general. And teaching our children about recycling. It's not much but it's something.

If you're interested in Doug Fine or his book, check out

On another subject.. here's a picture of my two girls and their friend Thea at a seder we went to last week. A lot of fun was had by all.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Cyclist with a Goal

"I don't want to try, it's too hard."

The comment often has to do with suggestions of taking a personal risk. And the people who seem to be able to avoid that language are amazing to me. They want to step away from what is comfortable or easy in order to achieve a goal. I want to be that kind of person.

One woman that comes to mind when I think of athletic risk-takers is a woman named Karen. She was a member of the bicycling club that my husband and I used to be members of in NYC, back when we were single and lived in a city. Karen was in her mid-40s, didn't have children, and worked full time as a graphic designer. She was not as muscular or thin as most serious cyclists. But she was not super competitive; instead she had endurance and persistence and rode because she loved it, not because she wanted to win a race.

Karen had recurring back pain that caused her to jump off her bike at stop signs, and lie down on her back in the grass with her arms stretched above her head.

Karen decided that she needed a bicycling goal, and that the goal should be geared toward participating in a noncompetitive endurance event, but an event that was beyond the scope of anything she had ever done. And she wanted to do it in a foreign country for an added adventure.

Karen chose the Paris-Brest-Paris Brevet, a 1200 kilometers (almost 700 miles) cycling event. It is apparently one of the oldest bicycling events anywhere. It started out in the early 1900s as a race for professional cyclists, but is now open to amateurs. You have to finish in 90 hours, which means that you have to eat on the bike, and plan your sleeping so that it doesn't interfere with reaching the goal of finishing within the set time limitation. Most people do the ride for the "fun" of it rather than trying to win.

When she told most people about her goal, people had no idea what to say except "wow." Many people told Karen she was nuts or worse, obsessed. They wondered why someone would want to be on a bicycle for that length of time. She must have psychological problems, they thought.

Yet she simply wanted a goal that seemed in theory to be beyond reach, and to prove to herself that she had the strength and will-power to stick with it.

Karen started bicycling to and from work, and just about everywhere else. She organized rides for members of the New York Cycle Club so that she could meet like-minded people, and have others to train with. Karen's organized rides were long. They lasted all day. You would start at 8:00 am at the boathouse in Central Park, ride up the Grand Concourse through the Bronx, then continued into Yonkers, Bronxville and woodsier parts of Westchester County.

Sometimes she led the group to Croton to see the dam, have some lunch or ice cream, before turning around to ride all the way back to Central Park. Those of us who weren't in as good shape, or had shorter goals, or evening plans, would hop on a train after 50 or 60 miles and get back into the City. Karen's rides would usually total about 100 miles but she wouldn't make you feel ashamed for quitting early if you needed to.

On her off days from riding, Karen did yoga and physical therapy to try to deal with her recurring back pain.

To make a long story short, she trained well, and reached her goal. And she not only has a sense of achievement but she earned a few good stories to tell about riding through the streets of France at three o'clock in the morning.

And like the endorphin-addicted, goal-oriented person that she is, she started to think about her next challenge after she had reigned in Paris-Brest-Paris and kicked its butt. I can't remember the goal that she chose, but it was another endurance-related goal that motivated her to train all year.

Karen is drawn to physical challenges. She is also down-to-earth, and encouraging toward other cyclists. She doesn't brag or make you feel bad about yourself. She just does what she loves to do, and doesn't complain about how hard it is. She is the type of athlete that draws others in by her shear love of the sport.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Nike's new Ad compaign

I love it! Nike is directing its advertising toward normal women, by extolling the virtues of thunder thighs. I wonder what will be in Nike's next ad. Maybe a celebration of flat-chested women? Or glamorizing wrinkles? That would be refreshing.

Obviously though, this ad campaign is going to be short-lived.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Lesson from a swimming mother

If you bring your four year old to swim practice bring crayons, a coloring book, and a High School Musical CD. But even with these distractions, please don't expect to swim much. This is how it will go:

She'll see water and decide she has to go potty. Right after you finish the first 50 yards.

You take her to the potty, then you resume your workout. Ten minutes later she'll realize the CD is skipping. She'll wave you over to tell you. You'll get out of the pool to fast forward for her.

Once the CD is running, she'll start climbing the stadium seats up to the top. Then she'll lay down on her back. You'll see her out of the corner of your eye while you are swimming with the pull buoy. You'll get nervous she might fall so you sprint to the end of the lane, ditch the pull buoy and go get her down. Tell her to please, please stay in the first three rows.

You tell her you'll be done in ten minutes and promise hot chocolate because she's so patient. Then you get back in the pool

She'll start looking for the baby scissors you brought. She won't find them. After you finished two thirds of the next 3 X 200 set, she'll come down to your lane, and tell you: "mommy I can't find the scissors." You'll hop out and find them in the front pocket of the backpack, right where you put them. You give them to her, warn her to be careful. Cut paper please, not fingers.

Then you resume your workout.

Another 400 yards into the workout, she'll come down and stand at the end of the lane. When you finish the lap she'll lean over and ask, "can we go soon?" You'll feel guilty for dragging her to the pool and you tell you'll be done after two more laps. You ask her to count them for you.

You do those two laps, then you jump out of the pool. Ten minutes before swim practice ends.

Net result of the workout: 1200 yards.

Yardage posted by the coach on the whiteboard: 2700 yards.

Lesson learned.