I have a crush on the grandmother of my son's little playmate

This morning I took Daniel to a parent-toddler class. A little girl who's in the same class is also in a playgroup with Daniel, and her big sister is in Joey's class at school. And of course, I'm well-acquainted with her mom. But today this little girl was there with her grandma instead of her mom. I hadn't met the grandma before, but when I greeted the little girl, and the grandma saw my name tag, she said, "Oh, are you the one who read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell?" (I wrote about this book in my very first blog post, and I guess I must have talked about it at playgroup. Needless to say, I was totally flattered that the mom had mentioned me to the grandma, and the grandma even knew my name.) She's reading it right now, using a cookbook holder to prop it up. So we had this great conversation about that, and other books. She said she just finished One Hundred Years of Solitude for the second time, after first reading it 30 years ago. I have tried a couple of times, but never gotten very far, with that one. But she totally inspired me to pick it up again. I told her I had just finished The Known World, which she'd also read, and we had a great conversation about it. Meanwhile, the toddlers played at the sensory table, which was filled with large kernels of corn. When Daniel toddled off toward the jungle gym I had to leave off the conversation and oh so reluctantly follow him. I hope I see the grandma again soon. She was so interesting. And she's a fabulous knitter.

Book group tomorrow evening . . . I can't wait. The Known World was quite a read. Quite an adventure, really. I will write about it after we meet tomorrow.

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About the sensory table: the woman who runs this class is so creative with it. Last week she filled it with fresh clean snow. We've also had birdseed and shaving cream (not at the same time). And of course, water. And always, the cups and spoons for pouring and dumping. Toddler heaven!

Reflections on raw cookie dough, and a recipe

Did you know that 1 heaping tablespoon of soy flour plus 2 tablespoons water (or other liquid) can be substituted for an egg? This is true. I read it in the Tightwad Gazette. The reason it's mentioned there is because one egg costs approximately ten cents, but a tablespoon of soy flour only costs a penny. I tried it, and by gum, it works. I've used soy flour in meatloaf, homemade bread, muffins, cookies. You cannot tell the difference in the finished product.

However, I also discovered that soy flour imparts a weird flavor to raw cookie dough. Personally, I'm not all that worried about getting salmonella from eating raw eggs, and I happily gobble up raw cookie dough even when it has eggs in it. But why not save nine cents on every batch?

Duh! Why not save ten cents on every batch! You don't need an egg if you're not going to bake it. So now I just add two extra tablespoons milk.

Here's the recipe:

Cream together one stick butter, and one half cup each of brown and white sugar. Add three tablespoons (original recipe: one tablespoon, plus one egg) milk and one teaspoon vanilla. Combine, then add one cup flour and one half teaspoon each baking powder, baking soda, salt. Combine those, then add one cup quick oats, plus a handful of nuts and/or chocolate chips.

Caution: even though you aren't going to bake the dough, do not leave out the powder, soda or salt. It definitely does not taste the same without those critical ingredients.

Proud mama

Originally uploaded by Julie H.
For his martial arts class today, Joey was supposed to answer these questions: 1) what do you want from life; 2) who will help you achieve it; and 3) what's the first step. These sound like hokey questions for a nine-year-old, but Joey took it very seriously. As we were discussing it last night he actually worked himself up into a tearful state, imagining himself as a grownup businessman who was so busy going to meetings all the time that he had no time to spend with his family. His goal, he said, was an "anti-goal." He wants to be relaxed and happy and spend time with his family. So, to answer the questions: 1) I want to be free from stress; 2) Mom & Dad; and 3) write a list of things that make me feel stressed. Several of the adults in the class, but none of the other kids, had similar goals. One of the adults said to Joey, "join the club!" which made him feel ten feet tall. I don't know what I'm proudest of: that he took this question so seriously; that at 9 he can picture himself as an adult; or that he's got his priorities straight.

And what a little heartthrob, huh?

My little baby's growing up (sniffle)

Normally I'm not one to get all choked up over developmental milestones. Learning to sit up, going off to kindergarten, riding a two-wheeler, losing a tooth, these are good things. Mostly, they make Mommy's life a lot easier.

A couple of days ago I took the two big kids to the pediatrician for their annual checkups and learned that my oldest doesn't need a booster seat in the car any more. This too is a good thing, one less thing to worry about, but honestly, I feel a little choked up about it.

Another thing that catches me, every time, is when I say to Mister Nine Years Old, "Honey, go take a shower now." And all by his own self he goes to the bathroom and shuts the door. After a while he comes out clean. And dressed. Often his towel is back on the rack.

And Miss Almost Six, well, she can put her own hair into a ponytail.

A strange thing I noticed

Out of the whole world of bloggers only ten people, including me, listed "human evolution" as one of their interests.

I realize I lead a somewhat insulated life here in my liberal, highly- educated, supposedly-most-bookstores-per-capita university town. When Bush won the election I said wonderingly to my husband, "Who are these people that voted for him?" "Well, you know, honey," he gently replied, "more than half the people in this country don't believe in evolution."

As IF evolution was something to be "believed in" or not.

Monty Bodkin

It's hard to imagine what association of ideas brought P.G. Wodehouse to my mind while writing the last post. I just love that expression "wheels within wheels." I just love those Blandings Castle books. Heavy Weather, Summer Lightning, Uncle Fred in Springtime . . . oh ha ha ha! I never could get into the Jeeves books so much, but the Blandings Castle crew are just unbelievably funny. Even their names crack me up: Monty Bodkin???? P. Frobisher Pilbeam???? Pongo Twistleton????

Speaking of books, I'm about halfway through The Known World, our next book club book. The first hundred pages were hard going. There are frequent shifts between flashbacks, the book's "present," and the future. Even very minor characters get the "he didn't know it, but twenty years later he would blah blah blah" treatment. Normally, I like an omniscient narrator, and I love it at the end of a movie when you're told what happens to the characters later in life. In this case, though, it felt like too much, and too abrupt. But it's going more smoothly now, and I'm enjoying it. Well, perhaps "enjoying" isn't the proper word. This is a book about slaves, and black slave owners. I have this constant feeling of dread while I'm reading. But it's fascinating.

Moral dilemma

Yeah, as I mentioned before, I had a little dilemma the other day.

Background: I edit the elementary school newsletter. (I love this job. If you need a newsletter, let me know.) Our newsletter has paid advertisements. Another mom is in charge of getting the ads.

A teacher calls me up the other day and tells me she has arranged for a local vision clinic to hold free vision screenings for kids. These screenings are more comprehensive than the ones we get for free from the county. However, although the screening is free and no-obligation, the clinic hopes that if a problem is found, the family will return to the clinic. The teacher then tells me that she mentioned it to the principal, who told her it should be a paid ad, not a blurb/article which would be free. So the teacher wants to know how much it would cost. She will pay it herself because she already told the vision clinic it would be free. Well, it would cost $75. I can not let this teacher pay for the ad. She is a reading recovery specialist who knows all too well how vision problems can cause reading problems. She is super-dedicated -- a wonderful, caring person and a very talented teacher. She took it upon herself to arrange this event.

More background: the principal vets everything before I print it. In the past, she has occasionally declared that other "blurbs" were really ads, and her rationale has never been clear to me. For example, a struggling coop preschool right in the neighborhood gave me a little article -- that was an ad. Yet a children's theatre production was not.

Now, here's the really interesting part. There are wheels within wheels, as a P.G. Wodehouse character (Monty Bodkin?) used to say. It turns out this particular decision is probably not as arbitrary as the others seemed to be. If the school sponsors, or appears to sponsor, something like a vision screening that could lead to parents being told their child has a problem, the school district then could be required to provide treatment for it. As in, pay for. (Makes me think of that bumper sticker: wouldn't it be great if our schools had all the money they needed and the military had to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber?)

The other mom persuaded the teacher and me to just go ahead and print the ad as though it were paid for. So it's going to appear on the page with the ads from the dollar store, the organic food market, the realtor, the dad who just started his own law firm. The heading on this page says: Please support our advertisers. Their paid ads reduce newsletter costs so we can use PTO funds for other things.

I know that in the scheme of things this is probably not a very big deal, but I feel weird about it.

Grace under pressure . . . NOT!

I had started to write a blog about a moral dilemma I encountered recently, but events of the last two days blew everything else out of my mind. Something I had always suspected about myself, that I am completely useless in emergency situations, has been absolutely confirmed.

The first emergency was the day before yesterday. The Little Guy woke up from his nap very crabby, so I did what I always do: popped him in the car to go for a drive in the country. He loves to ride in the car and this always cheers him up when he wakes up crabby. (I know lots of moms who have to go for drives in the country to get the kids to fall asleep, but I'm the only one I know who does it to get them to wake up decently. Whatever.) So, we're heading out of town via a very busy five-lane road, when suddenly I realize that over the music I'm hearing a REALLY loud noise. I look around for a car without a muffler, though it doesn't really sound like a muffler problem -- it sounds like a jet plane. Finally I realize that it's my minivan making the noise. I pull onto a side street, get out, check, sure enough, the rear passenger tire is totally flat. And guess what? We had no coats in the car. Remember, we weren't planning to go anywhere -- just a drive in the country. In the middle of a Michigan winter. Well, between the lack of coats and the need to pick up the big kids from school in about 45 minutes, I really couldn't think straight at all. Changing the tire myself was not an option because even if I'd had a coat and gloves, I didn't know where in the van the spare tire is located. I think it's under a seat, but which one? Probably the one with the baby seat. And I couldn't have him loose in the car, no way, not this kid. And I was way too stressed out to even think of studying the manual to figure it out. So, did I use my brand new cell phone to call for help? Oh no. Did I go to the nearest gas station? Oh no. I drove to the dealership! Drove 10 miles an hour with hazard lights on, in the left turn lane the whole way. To be fair, I was probably half a mile or less away from the dealer. But still. And I'm pleased to report, the rim was not damaged. And we got new tires just in time for today's snowstorm, which brings me to the second thing that happened.

The second emergency happened this afternoon. Despite the foot or so of freshly fallen snow out there, The Little Guy and I headed out to Borders to get birthday presents for my brother-in-law. I had called in advance to put the books on hold at the desk because we were in a hurry, and because I didn't want to have to roam around the bookstore while carrying a 30-pound toddler, nor did I want to push the stroller through the snow & slush. I even cleverly pulled my credit card out of my purse and stuck it in my pocket so that when I got to the desk, carrying the aforementioned thirty pounds, I wouldn't have to fumble around, you know. So everything went smoothly until I returned to the car, carrying the thirty pounds and the bag of books into which I had also stuffed my gloves and car keys because otherwise it was just too much to carry and keep track of. I stuffed The Little Guy into his car seat, tossed the bag of books onto the front passenger seat, shut the door, and . . . did you figure it out? In the blink of an eye, my precious Little Guy was locked in the car along with my keys (and gloves). It's about 5:30 p.m., it's getting dark, it's windy, it's snowy, it's freezing cold, oh my god! Well, I ran back into Borders, they called the police, the police called a tow truck, and it wasn't more than ten minutes before the door was open. The Little Guy cried a little, but mostly he waited patiently. The girl from the store who'd called the cops came out with a cup of hot cocoa, bless her heart, and waited with me for a little while. The cop was also great, and I even joked around with him while we waited for the tow truck, but I felt like it was another person doing the joking while I was secretly screaming with horror. The tow truck guy popped the door open in about 10 seconds. Cost? $35.

* * *

Before I end this post, I have to say something about Borders. I almost never shop there! And despite the kindness of the girl with the hot cocoa, I will continue to almost never shop there. The only reason I went there today instead of one of the two remaining independently-owned bookstores in town -- and Ann Arbor supposedly has the distinction of being the city with the most bookstores per capita in the country -- is because Borders has this absolutely cruddy policy of not giving change for a gift card even if there's only a couple bucks left on it. And I had a card with a couple bucks on it. One day I will write my rant against big bookstore chains; I'm too tired right now.

Our trip to the dollar store

Originally uploaded by Julie H.
My five-year-old daughter had a dollar to spend, and out of the whole store, she chose this. The, um, angel is sitting on the bicycle seat while stark naked; in back you can see the butt crack quite clearly. She says she chose this because the golden, um, halo reminds her of her grandfather who passed away three years ago. Not that she was making a connection between angels and dead grandfathers. Oh no. Here's the connection: Grandpa John was a University of Michigan football fan. UM's colors are maize and blue. Maize, gold. Grandpa John, halo. Oh, how I love that kid!

Cry, cry, baby!

For several days in a row our Little Guy has been waking up uncharacter- istically early, like 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. I know, I know, some kids (like my oldest, when he was little) always wake up that early. But Daniel usually sleeps until at least 7:00, sometimes as late as 8:00. Plus, he was waking us up with this weird, strident cry. And then he'd fall asleep in the car at 10:30. Clearly, his sleep cycle was messed up, probably from earlier in the week when he wasn't feeling well. So this morning at 5:40 we decided to let him cry. And after 20 hideous minutes, he fell back asleep until 7:30. Yay!!! My daughter, whose bedroom is right next door, heard him but also went back to sleep. Yay!!!

I'm a big believer in letting them cry it out. I know it's not the cool "attachment parent" thing to do. But even though I do some crunchy granola things like having home births, eating (mostly) organic foods, breastfeeding, using home-laundered cloth diapers (until recently, anyway), etc. etc., I am not an attachment parent. At least, I don't think I am. Though I must admit that my idea of what attachment parenting is all about is based more on my observations of other moms than a close reading of Dr. Sears. It seems like all the attachment moms I know use Dr. Sears as an excuse to not set limits. Result: clingy, whiny kids with poor social skills and low self-esteem because they don't know how to behave.

Furthermore, letting them cry it out works! Ok, you suffer for a day or two, when your Little Guy or Gal is first learning to put him or herself to sleep, and I will not deny that the suffering is intense. Listening to your child crying heartbrokenly for an hour is no picnic. But the rewards are amazing. There's a terrific book by a pediatric sleep expert which details how sleep benefits the growing brain. Not to mention the benefit to the parents of having a child that can put itself to sleep. After babysitting Daniel the other day, my mom commented that putting him to bed was "like hanging up a coat."

Attachment parenting, I believe, appeals to people who can't see the forest for the trees. People who would rather not vaccinate their children than listen to them cry when they get the shot. People who would rather spend hours rocking/singing/nursing/lying down in bed with their children than teach them to go to sleep on their own. I know I am simplifying complex issues here, especially the vaccination thing. But honestly, I have observed so many attachment parents who seem to have this attitude.

Well! That judgmental & self-righteous rant about other people's parenting techniques sure felt great! Stay tuned for a similar rant on how people misunderstand and misuse "time outs" with their toddlers . . . .


Blogs are so cool. Here are a few that I've bookmarked. There's the college girl doing a year abroad; the inner city high school English teacher; the reporter in Iraq; the Stepford Wife on Acid for when I need a good belly laugh; the home birth midwife and the doula, though I'm not sure I'd want that doula bringing her dream team to any of my births, oh ha ha ha; and my number one favorite, the "socially liberal theologically conservative" seminary student.

A grueling day

The Little Guy
Originally uploaded by Julie H.
The Little Guy has had diarrhea for the last few days, and he's also cutting a molar. I can't begin to describe how hideous this day was. I'm posting this picture to remind myself how cute and adorable he is. When he's not sick & teething, anyway.

Tear jerker

I've volunteered to coach my 3rd-grade son's "Book Bowl" team, which means I get to read all the books. Yesterday I read A Taste of Blackberries, and oh, did I cry buckets! Whew! In a nutshell, the narrator's best friend dies from an allergic reaction to a beesting. Although the book could have delved a little deeper into the complexities of the narrator's feelings (or could it? after all, this is a book for 3rd graders), there were some very moving images. For example, the narrator is very upset when he sees some of the dead boy's friends playing outside after the funeral, yet his feet felt like playing, too, even though his heart was heavy. I can't find the book, or I'd give the exact quote. It was lovely.

Next up on the Book Bowl list is My Trip to Alpha 1, by Alfred Slote.

I was going to write something fascinating about Alfred Slote but I'll have to do it later because the Little Guy suddenly started bawling in his crib. Gotta go!

Too much mystery

I did finish The Sunday Philosophy Club, and must confess I was disappointed. Perhaps my expectations were too high because I just love that No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. The big problem is that in general I don't really like mysteries that much. And I especially don't like mysteries like this one, where the sleuth is not a professional. Often, the author has to concoct some reason to justify the non-cop or non-private eye's involvement in the mystery. And in TSPC there really wasn't a good reason for the sleuth to be involved. Also, there were some pretty awful coincidences. She just happens to meet a man at an art gallery opening who turns out to be a source of information about the murder--which has to do with insider trading, not art.

However, I loved the bits of moral philosophy. The sleuth happens to be the editor of a philosophy journal, and she's constantly mulling over her moral duty to solve the murder versus mind her own business. There are also little descriptions of the articles she edits which are terrific. Here's a sample bit of philosophy on the topic of "premature forgiveness":
We needed resentment, he said, as it was resentment which identified and underlined the wrong. Without these reactive attitudes, we ran the risk of diminishing our sense of right and wrong, because we could end up thinking it just doesn't matter. So we should not forgive prematurely, which is presumably what Pope John Paul II had in mind when he waited for all those years before he went to visit his attacker in his cell.
Now isn't that such a cool idea? Especially after what I wrote in the last post? There, I was so annoyed because those girls in The Little Women would not forgive their parents. Hmmm.

TSPC also contained one of the best love scenes I've ever read. Check this out: ". . . they moved through to the bedroom and embraced. Toby said that he loved the smell in her bedroom; he disorganized her dress, and she had to struggle to keep her composure. Never before have I felt so intensely, she thought; never." Isn't that great? He disorganized her dress. Love it!

In the final analysis, I would suggest to Alexander McCall Smith that he write novels, not mysteries. The No. 1 Ladies' books aren't really mysteries, although mysteries are solved in the course of them. TSPC is too much mystery and not enough novel.

Book Group

We met last night to talk about The Little Women. We didn't totally pan it, but we did find lots to criticize. Some of the things we discussed:

No one liked the readers' notes interspersed throughout. One member of the group didn't even bother to read them.

The book seemed simplistic, perhaps because it was "written" by a 16-year-old. But the author (the real author, I mean) could have given us some wisdom or complexity along with Joanna's point of view.

And the whole premise of the story was annoying: these girls who could not forgive their parents for something that was over and done with, and ultimately none of their business. Especially when you think about the original Little Women, with its recurring themes of don't let the sun go down on your anger, keep your temper, etc.

We did like some of the peripheral characters, especially the photographer and the grandma. And I loved the description of the smell in the stairway of their apartment in New Haven: "body odor curry."

Next book: The Known World, which, conveniently, was one of my Chrismubirthdaykah presents.

Bad boy

Our 18-month-old is driving his family crazy. Here is a partial list of his favorite hobbies:

1. Pulling. Pulling hard. I have seen him pull cats off the couch by the fur. I have seen him lift cats off the ground by the tail. He was delighted to discover that when he yanks on dog hair, it comes out! As if we didn't have enough dog hair floating around the house without that. And oh, how he loves to hear those squeals of pain and anger when he pulls his sister's hair.

2. Climbing. Dining chairs, couch, stepstool, piano bench, coffee table. Often climbing is a prelude to pulling. Rarely can he get down by himself. Frequently he bumps his head.

3. Thrashing, kicking, and wailing during diaper changes. It's so bad that we switched from cloth to disposables so as not to have to do it so often. With disposables you can get away with twice a day if they don't poop.

4. Blankies. Now, you wouldn't think blankies would be a bad thing. In fact, we encouraged all our kids to love their blankies. But Daniel has three of them. Two are fleece, one is his crib quilt. They are big and bulky. When I'm holding him and the blankies not only can I not see my feet, but my center of gravity is further thrown off because he has to lean back to accommodate their bulk. And he wants to bring them everywhere. Even in the high chair. (I know it could be a lot worse in the transitional object department. I have a niece who's attached to a pocket-sized teddy bear. They can never find it.)

I just hate it when people say, "Aw, what a cutie. Don't you just love that age?" Get real. Sure, we're biologically programmed to think toddlers are cute so we won't kill them!

The toxic birthday cake

Originally uploaded by Julie H.
Happy Birthday, Joey darling!

Sticklers, Part II

Duh! I just realized I forgot to tell you the reason why I wrote about sticklers in the first place. My whole point about that was to justify my nit-picky criticism of The Little Women in the previous post. I mean, what kind of obsessive dork would be bothered by a single three-word phrase ("solitary and hungry")?

Today I started the next Chrismubirthdaykah book: The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith. I can't say enough good things about his other series, the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books. Oh, are they good! They made me want to emigrate to Botswana. Seriously.

For my son's 9th birthday dinner we had take-out Indian food, including plenty of mango lassis to drink, and then a birthday cake made and "decorated" by me. If I can figure out how to post photos, I'll show you what it looked like. Oh ha ha ha!