Sunday, November 7, 2010

Boys and Guns, Apples and Arrows

I've voiced concern before over the kind of person Noah will grow up to be.
After a conversation today, (which really is part of an ongoing debate about violence and masculinity between me and my 4 yr old), I'm fairly certain that he will take great pleasure in rebelling against my peace-lovin' hippy ways.

Dinnertime talk:

Mad: Noah, must you turn your garlic bread into a gun tonight?

Noah: Yes, Mom!

Mad: Why do you turn your bread into a weapon, darling?

Noah: So I can kill the bad guys.

Mad: But Noah, can't you just give the bad guys a HUG and turn them into good guys?

Noah: No!

Mad: Why not, honey?

Noah: I need the bad guys to be bad so I can shoot my gun and kill them!

I actually realize that Noah is not atypical, that many boys behave this way, that it is not a personal attack on my values. Sure sure.
Rationally, I realize this. And I take deep breathes. But it's hard to not have internal alarms going off; blaring, warning, warning, your son will be swept up into a cycle of violence and retribution...that doesn't end...until it all ends.  
I don't know what is cultural, what is learned on the playground, what is absorbed from cartoons, or what is biological.
And what to do? Forbid him to pretend? Make guns such an enticing taboo that he will be even more drawn to them? Say no, no, no...and force him to play guns secretly...making them that much more powerful and seductive?
I don't have any answers to those questions.

Here's irony for you: this quote (with it's weaponary and shooting) popped into my head which expresses this feeling of helplessness that parenting can be. The essence of the quote is: 'having a child is like shooting an arrow into the have no control over where it will land'...someting like that.
However, just now when I tried to google the quote to get the accurate wording, I couldn't find it.
I only found bizarre and violent mentions of children getting shot with arrows, and of course the William Tell shooting an apple from his son's head.

Nevertheless, Noah is an arrow soaring in the sky, already beyond my reach. Sigh. Boys.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Time Capsule/Frankenstein Love Letter...or: I never throw away anything written to me

I was looking, tonight, through a dusty box of old poetry; trying to select enough tasty morsels to read to a captive audience (I have a reading on November 18th). Within that dusty box, there was an entire history recorded, cryptically. Some of the things I wrote should not only be thrown away, they should be burned and the ashes should be stomped on, scooped up, and tossed over the edge of a cliff. But, alas, I can't do it.
In fact, I'd rather humiliate myself a little more by sharing a few things here. Oh, why not.

I'll start by sharing a strange creation of mine. I can't call it a poem. I didn't write a lick of it. Way back in the dawn of time, people used to write actual physical tangible letters to each other. There were folds and creases and handwriting quirks and doodles in the margins, tear drop stains and lipstick streaks. Well, I took a bunch of letters written by friends and family, cut them all up and pieced them back together into a freakish Frankenstien letter to my 19 year-old self.  Don't strain your eyes trying to read these! I'll type it all out for your amusement! It's been over 15 yrs since folks wrote these words to me. Some are no longer alive. Some are lost to me in other ways. But I have their crazy, wonderful, earnest and silly longings and wishes in this time capsule to myself.  

July 5, 1994 Tuesday Morning
Dear Madona, Dearest Niece Madona, Hey Tyler, Ty, To Tyler from Jon-Boy,

After you're rich and famous, I'll say

Same people, same places

Did I tell you that Aurielle lost her two front teeth on the bottom?

I can hold a pencil in my fingers.

...and I can't. Isn't that unfair? You can work 4 days a week at the club and you don't think that bothers me? But I don't say I have no respect for you. I love & respect you.

my period is very irregular lately

and the radio said Lollapalooza was rained out

Mike sounds soooooo cute, I think that blond hair and

my theory that rap music is a communist  plot to weaken the infrastructure of American society

backbites her own children, Ok? Try to give the person the benefit

computer you ganked from the family. Why you little devil.

When we were fixing to take the boys back swimming he gave me

fast cars, a nice house, a couple of rug rats, a small harem, and to in general just be happy

the children put on plays, skits, sings and dances

but we claim healing in the name of Jesus!

What do you want from life? Well, besides sex

go down the river in Mason's boat. That's one of my favorite things

and not be so possessive, I will promise to be everything to you, including your future

I do worry about you

(one was killed by a pack of dogs) then the dog catcher

He made the Dean's List.

I came into the theater today looking for a job. Do you remember?

I have emotional problems

I would rather call you Madona, but if you like Tyler I will call you that. Sometimes I call myself Chicken Wang

Cold Cold in MN tonight

you haven't found you a fella yet! there has to be one nice single cute man in Minnesota

Well we got to the beach last night, however, I never left Lake Butler

We stood on the front porch last night and watched fireworks. They were mostly duds.

watched a movie and later that night called and said you would have kissed me if I had tried

don't strike me down with your wrath

1995 will be the best

incredible friendship and relationship. I'm ready to commit myself

Forgive me for getting pissed off

housework keeps me hopping

I have the feeling you're a booty call. I like Bryan, he's nice, but 

Hot! We need the rain

Don't lead me on or use me as a security blanket

From Will The Temp Guy reading the Barbara Kingsolver book, Grandma, Love, Erica M. Freeman, I love you, Jon, Dawnnita, Your Friend, Travis, Love Always, Aunt Beth, Cousin Fritz and Cousin Biener, Love Jay, Love always and forever, Mommy, Aurielle and Smokey, Love you, Granny Erlene, Always Friends, Leslie, Love & Hugs, Shannon, Love ya honey, Mary, Love, Aunt Peg

P.S. If the pictures do not arrive soon I shall gather my tools of torture (handcuffs, whips, etc.)
P.P.S. Everyone says hi and sends their love. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A few recent poems...with a disclaimer.

I'm not extremely confident that my poetry is anything. I just write it because I have to. I don't edit very much. I don't rewrite. I don't strive for perfection because life is too short...and there is no such thing as PERFECT in poetry or life. So, there. I have given you my disclaimer, and at the same time set the expectations low. I'm off the hook! And so are you. Enjoy. Or not.
There's only 3 short poems to endure here. The last one being the most 'positive'- written today.

A few poems written recently on trains or during walks home... (listed chronologically):

Unanswered Questions

If I cross a line
Will you
Remind me
Where the boundaries are drawn?

Is the question
‘What part of me do you see
that I am blind to?’
Or is it
‘What part of you is blind to me?’

I have only the
Most miniscule inklings
Like the faith in a silent god

A defense mechanism
Preventing the harshest of falls

What Can Stop a Train?

The expectation of amnesia
Understanding we experience
Then choose to forget
Especially those things
That would force change
What we can’t change

The mind races along
A high-speed train in its dark passage
Grasping for nothing
But a steely track

If we could only
Brake, pause, seal in amber
The touch of skin
The knowledge of a line crossed for the better
A connection tender
Sweetness recollecting, tasted on lips

But what can stop a train
From plowing along its predestined course
You? Me?
Figures illuminated ahead on the tracks
Phantoms disappearing on impact

Wishes for you:

To discover a secret hidden message
Written on your window’s condensation
Carving out heat from autumn chill.

To find a forgotten 5 dollar bill
In last year’s coat pocket.

To discover a fresh route
To walk your way home
sun-on -your-back.

To find a capital M, Mystery
That unravels your heart.

To discover a gift that was never lost,
you didn’t know you possessed
Until it was too late to do anything
But appreciate its grace.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Every 20 seconds, a child dies from a water related disease... Blog Action Day

Even though I grew up in relative poverty, I feel extremely lucky.
I was lucky to be born in a wealthy, developed country/America;
where water is piped into our homes,
where there are public drinking fountains,
where drinking water does not kill you.*

Does it sound and feel crazy to you that 46% of the world is not so lucky? 46% of the world does not have the luxury and convenience of H2O piped in. What do the other 46% do to hydrate their bodies, to wash their babies? Because water is what they lack, they live a life consumed with the quest of obtaining it.
This quest rests heavily on the shoulders of women (or rather, carried on top their heads), who often walk 8 hours a day to gather water for their families, their children. And even then, the water may be full of human waste, chemical run-off, hidden disease and death.

Did you realize there is a CLEAN water crisis going on? Probably not, because if you are reading this blog, you are more than likely priveleged enough to have a computer and priveleged enough to have ample amounts of disposable time to read my silly ramblings. Clean water is something that you, if you are anything like me, probably take for granted most of the time.
I'm trying hard to not take it for granted today. I thank my lucky stars that I am spending my time/life thinking, laughing, reading, writing, loving, dancing, teaching, learning...instead of gathering water.

There are ways to make it better for ourselves, our children, and the other 46%:

1) We can conserve water, not be so wasteful. After all, it is a limited resource. In fact, it becomes more and more limited as the world population grows and our current water supplies get more and more contaminated.

2) We can educate and empower ourselves about our world. We are all connected, sharing the same sky, earth, and water. Learn how what you do affects others. Be mindful of your impact in the world. Take responsibility.

3) We can support the efforts of groups devoted to working on the water crisis. Groups like and charity: water work to bring wells and fresh, clean water to that 46% of people not as fortunate as ourselves.  
4) If you are tired of helping others and worrying about the problems of the other 46%, then help yourself and your children:
Make sure that lawmakers are PROTECTING PEOPLE, water, air, and NOT POLLUTERS!

If you want to learn more or check my facts, visit,
and read the National Geographic's Special Water Issue (Our Thirsty World). 

~Clean Water Cheers!

*However, with the rising toxicity of our waters, that is questionable. Many links are being made to water and cancer clusters. We've all seen Erin Brockovich, right? Maybe I should revise my statement to "drinking water does not kill you immediately."

Monday, September 27, 2010

Your Hometown: a left-brained and a right-brained approach to perceiving the place.

Maybe you're like me, and you're far, far away physically (and spiritually) from where you started. But maybe, like me, you still have internal conversations with old friends or family who have departed. Maybe, like me, you never stop loving people you grew up with and you visit them in blurry dreams.
Or maybe not.
Maybe you're not like me at all and the past is the past is the past...
Nevertheless, you might still like to check out these sites.
Your hometown- a left-brained and a right-brained approach to perceiving the place:

1) Arcade Fire's The Wilderness Downtown interactive video site. You really really should have Google Chrome for this experience. Just download it and all is good. The Wilderness Downtown is pretty neat. You put in the zip code from your hometown (or anywhere) and the video captures parts of your hometown using Google Maps and some awesome music and art. The result is a custom-made music video!
It may not be the hometown of your childhood memories, but, really, you can never go back to that.
It's lost. Only accessible in  those aforementioned blurry, time-smeared dreams or glimpsed running by out of the corner of your eye.

If you are unfamiliar with Arcade Fire, they are responsible for the emotional, epic music in the Where the Wild Things Are film. It's pretty interesting hearing this epic music playing over images familiar to your life. Kind of like a soundtrack to a memory from the past.

2) Patchwork Nation. This is a totally different experience than The Wilderness Downtown! Patchwork Nation is a research and reporting project that maps information about America in a more compelling and complex way than using those tired old monikers like Democrat and Republican...which really don't get to the heart of what people are. Patchwork Nation looks at the factors that might make you a liberal or conservative; like race, income level, religion, education level...but it also challenges those assumptions by showing that we are more complicated than those labels.
So, like with The Wilderness Downtown, you punch in your zip, and it spits out information relevant to you. It shows you the demographics of your hometown, or current town, and puts your county into a category like "Monied 'Burbs" or "Boom Town" or "Tractor Country" or "Evangelical Epicenter." These categories can be problematic too due to the fact that they are based on the county, not the city or neighborhood. For example, my current zip was categorized as a "Monied 'Burb", even though there is a huge immigrant population here in pretty dire poverty. Yet, because the wealth of nearby Bethesda and Chevy Chase are in the same county, the entire area is classified by that wealth.
In spite of it's limitations, Patchwork Nation gives insights on how we are changing politically and otherwise. You can see where all foreclosures are taking place and how that effects how people vote. You can see where counties with Cracker Barrels are versus counties with Whole Foods. You can create some cool map/data mashups.
Maybe I'm just a nerd. But, it was fascinating for me to see the data on the different types of communities that I've lived diverse they are, or what they have in common.
My hometown, Lake Butler, FL, currently has a population of about 15,000...and about 86% of those people consider themselves to be Evangelical Christians.
The town I reside in now, Takoma Park, MD has a population of 950,000...with just about every religion represented...only 14% Evangelical.
Very interesting!

When the creator of Patchwork Nation spoke to a group of us last week at Greenpeace, I asked him if he knew of any similar sites that study this kind of human data, but on a more global level. He pointed me to Gapminder, which looks at world trends. Cool mappy stuff.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Small Shaving Tip: If you can't beat the system...break it!

A couple of random tips for the ladies (and applicable fellas too):

1) If you shave your legs with hair conditioner, they will be much softer and smoother than if using shaving cream. You may find yourself unconsciously caressing your own legs in public, causing great embarrassment to yourself and those around you.
That has been my experience anyways.
Go ahead and try it, and let me know if you have any similar experiences.

2) If you do use conditioner to shave your legs, then you should probably be seated whilst shaving. Otherwise, as the bottom of your tub becomes all slicked up with the magical, mysterious, unpronounceable and surely toxic conditioner oils and ingredients, you very well may find yourself sliding right out of the tub and onto a hard, tiled floor, whirling and spinning around like a character from Electric Boogaloo. And let me assure you that it is not fun at all to breakdance in the nude.

That has been my experience anyways.
Go ahead and try it, and let me know if you have any similar experiences.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Transportation Meditations: Part 3: Public Trans.- The Metro

Maybe it's just that I'm in the honeymoon phase of my relationship with the Metro, but so far- I heart it so!
First of all, oh my, the people-watching opportunities are unbeatable. There are all kinds of folks elbow to elbow ("It's called Speed Stick- It's not expensive!"). In the mornings, people tend to be on the quiet side, waking up. But in the afternoons, whoa, what conversations (with occassional splatterings of profanity) I overhear. Sometimes complete tragic dramas are played out over a mobile phone. And I think I might have witnessed a baby being made yesterday. Are we either exhibitionists or voyeurs?
It is truly Public Transportation Theater. I went to a Creative Writing Group meeting the other day, and one of the writers insisted that the Metro is the best place to get story ideas. True dat. It's also a good place, as a writer, to listen to genuine dialogue, genuine slang, speech patterns, etc. to include in your writing. You know, slang that's more current and authentic than 'true dat'. But I digress.
Another few reasons I love the Metro (so far), are: it's easy, effortless- a lot simpler than driving into DC and parking. There are so many OneWays, traffic, crazy drivers, traffic, and more traffic, and road rage. The last time I drove to DC was for a Dr's appointment for took FOREVER to traverse 7 miles, and when we finally arrived home, I just wanted to drink. Nerve-wracking. The Metro, on the other hand, you step on, no, yeah, the train shares it's track with nada...and then you step right off, convienently at your destination. On the way, you could read a book, listen to your Ipod, people watch, or even have a long, loud personal conversation on your phone for everyone on the train to hear, etc. Whatevs!     
Also, I adore the fact that I'm not driving a car that is idling through traffic, burning up the fuel, smogging up the air.

My only complaint is that during the peak hours, the Metro fares are a wee bit expensive. 3 bucks there, 3 bucks back. Not really expensive, I guess, if you consider that to park a car in DC, I'd be spending at least $10-15 a day! And if you factor in gas costs, car maintenence, insurance, and monthly car payments....well, that 3 bucks there and 3 bucks back is certainly the more frugal choice.

I realize I haven't shared my adventures with buses yet. Soon to come, ok!
In the meantime, I'd love to hear about any of your Public Transportation experiences/opinions/eavesdroppings.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Greenpeace and its haters

I started my internship with Greenpeace this week!
While some of what I'm doing has to be kept confidential (just in case someone from Exxon or BP reads my blog! ; )), I can share some insights here and there.
First of all, I've been really surprised by all the Greenpeace haters in the world. Some haters actually have interests that are in direct conflict with Greenpeace. For example, a logging company (Sinar Mas) that cuts down ancient rainforests in order to sell Palm Oil to Burger King to cook fries in. Well, Greenpeace values the rainforest, the animals that live there, and the humans who need the oxygen from those ancient rainforests. Yes, Greenpeace values that over the ability of Sinar Mas to make an easy buck. So, the conflict ensues.

Greenpeace, which is committed to NONVIOLENT forms of protest, informs the public about what Sinar Mas (and Burger King) are doing. Greenpeace is known for it's creative approaches to getting attention on a particular issue, and putting pressure on corporations to rethink and change their approaches. If you want to read about how successful Greenpeace has been with this particular campaign to save rainforests, click here, and you will see that Burger King has agreed to let us 'have it our way'- by dropping Sinar Mas.
Anyways, I just wanted to give that one very recent example of how Greenpeace is working hard to protect forests, animals, and the environment. Most of us can agree that Sinar Mas can choose another way to make its money, without destroying the planet.

It's those other areas, like Greenpeace's unyielding views on nukes and coal, that make it an organization that is opposed by many people in the mainstream. I understand a conflict of views/interests/perspectives. However, I can't understand the venom behind some of the opposition. It seems like a lot of the haters don't really know what Greenpeace does, and the haters project all of their issues with 'liberals' or 'hippies' onto Greenpeace. Misdirected hate.
Luckily, Greenpeace has a history of standing up to criticism, standing up even when they are being fired upon. I'll repeat, Greenpeace participates in NONVIOLENT protest. Activists often put their bodies between a tree and a bulldozer, between whales and whalers, between baby seals and a clubber, between a rainforest and a forest destroyers. I really respect their efforts, obviously, or else I wouldn't be involving myself with Greenpeace.
Watch this video, if you will,  and see some awesome historical Greenpeace activism.
 I find it pretty inspiring.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Transportation Meditations: Part 2, Bikes.

I have a limited experience with bicycles, but I appreciate their image.
Unfortunaetely, I've never been very serious or steady with them.
A bike has coasted into my life every 10 years or so, leaving knees skinned, muscles worn, tears.

I have an early memory of visiting my father, his wife Carla, and her children in Starke. Probably there were Tyler cousins around too. I was being carried around on the handle bars of someone's bike, when one of my (surely bare) feet strayed into the danger zone of the bicycle's spokes. A flip. A flop. A dusty end. Wailing ensued.

Later on my own bike, on the dead-end street near my grandma's, I would ride around with the gang of neighborhood kids. Us girls all toted our baby dolls in pink and purple baskets attached to our pink and purple bikes. Kristy had a Cabbage Patch Kid that I envied, a reminder of my (relative) poverty (no Cabbage Patch Kids, no summer camps, no labels). Jamie had a Kimberly Cheerleader doll who was massive, long-legged, short-skirted, with long, flowing locks of blonde.
I had an ugly plastic baby named Suzy (I named them all Suzy for a while) who would really pee. I would feed her a bottle of water, and she would immediately soak her diaper. Her eyes would close when you lay her down and open when held upright. My unsteady bike wheels weaving through patches of dirt.
Suzy skidding across the dead-end street with a strangely satisfying thud rattle thud rattle. Her plastic nose whittled down by the gravely road, her dress- tattered.

I had a Salvation Army $20 bike briefly when I was a student at UF. I wasn't bravehearted enough to ride it around town, but I happily rode it up and down campus paths until it was stolen by a Grateful Dead dreadlocked kid (I'm fairly certain of this). My memories of this bike and this time are mostly of being extremely sweaty in the hot Florida sunshine, the aroma of Hare Krishna food, and the color yellow.

Current day. I found a bright, day glo orange/pink beach cruiser in my mother-in-law's barn, destined for a landfill. I had dreams of transforming her into something more serious, respectable, useful. I painted her a deep wine color, I fixed up her bungling wheels, I moved her with us here in Takoma Park. And here my dreams met reality. The bike has no gears, no brakes. I'm terrified riding her in the street. I can't get up even a smallish hill, and here there are many hills smallish and large-ish. Pulling Noah along behind me in his little bike trailer is a Herculian feat. And Hercules, I ain't.

I haven't given up on the whole bicycle experience. I just haven't found the right bike for my current situation. Takoma Park is pretty bike friendly, there are bike lanes, people are zipping by on snazzy bikes right outside the coffee shop window as I type this.

My husband bikes to work daily. I'm so proud of him. He does it because he wants to get around without a car, without depending on oil, without polluting the environment, because it's a great workout, because he enjoys it, and because he likes to challenge himself.

I fantasize about Michael, Noah, and I coasting along together (as a biking family) through quaint little villages, breeze across our brows, stopping in a shady, quiet, spot for a picnic.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Transportation Meditations: Part 1, Cars.

How we get from Here to There is important.

Transportation is a big deal.
An entire perspective can be altered by how you choose to get around.
I'm fortunate enough to have a plethora o' choices about how to move myself through the world,
and I'll be exploring some of those choices right here.

My personal car history:

I learned how to drive in my grandma's Lincoln Towncar.
It was an opportunity for her and Mr. Ray (her 6th, 7th? husband) to have cocktails in the backseat while I chauffered them through the scenic country backroads of Lulu and Sanford and Raiford.
"Look. A cow."
Once, I drove right up to a gas station and managed to wedge the whale of a car between the gas pumps and the gas station door, effectively trapping 4 or 5 people (about half of our small town!) inside.
Oh how they tapped and banged on the Quick Stop door, oh how they rolled their terrible eyes.

During my junior or senior year in high school, I acquired a white Ford LTD, which was a former police car. I used The Man's car to skip school a few times, making my transgressions doubly delightful.
Teenaged Me and the Freedom of the open road were a heady mix. I could not be chained.
I could not hold still for two seconds. That first car didn't last long.
It blew a gasket on a lovely green, horse-filled hill between Gainesville and Lake Butler.
Sarah and George were my passengers. We were returning home from Christmas shopping.
Fa La La La La La La La.

Next car in line, a little used Mazda.
From my father, as a freshman, to commute to the University of Florida.
Alas, I wasn't serious-minded enough (yet) for college.
And unfortunately, the Mazda leaked streaks and quart after quart of oil back and forth.      

Next up, a series of used little beaters.
Threadbare tires. Squeaky brakes.
Spilled milkshakes that glue hair and grime to the seats and windows.
Cars that appealed to me because they were cheap
and tied in to some crazy death-wish that ruled my 20's.  
One dented blue vessel that went sailing across icy Minneapolis streets, no snowtires.
One egg-shaped car that haunted late-night dives throughout grad-school in Tallahassee.
Can't remember which car I was in, listening to R.E.M.,
when I had a sudden urge to drive right off a bridge. 
Not that R.E.M. was feeding a suicidal tendancy, I was mostly just bored and melancholic,
had no direction, and desperately wanted something, something, anything to happen in my life.
And I imagined that the car would just float down the river,
bobbing up and down like a shiny piece of tackle.

But when I became pregnant with Noah, I insisted that everything be safe and clean, including my car.
(I shuttered to think that I could be stranded on the interstate
 in the middle of nowhere with a wailing infant in a broken-down old beater,
raditor a sprayin', hazard lights a flashin,' smoke a trailin' up towards heaven).
I assumed that the only responsible thing to do
would be to shell out a ton of cash (every month) on a new, reliable vehicle.
Here enters my current Mom-mobile. Devoid of personality.
Invulnerable to the world. A protective bubble sealing me and my family in snug and tight.
Of course, the feeling of invulnerablity is an illusion. Even though I feel in control behind the wheel, I'm still relying on everyone else on the road to uphold their end of the social contract. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. Sometimes people are idiotic, and sometimes people have accidents.
We all know the car-crash statistics.
My husband's father was killed in a car crash a few years ago.
No one really knows if the sun was in his eyes, or if he glanced down to turn up the radio.
But we know he ran a stop sign.
And kept running it until he collided with a car carrying a woman, 8 months pregnant.

I have been entertaining the idea of getting rid of my car altogether now that we have so many other options here in Takoma Park/DC. A bus, a train, a bike, my own two feet...can get me from Here to There as well.
However, I have been steadily bumping into my own limitations. For example, I've realized I'm not Superwoman, and as much as I like riding bikes, it's not possible (well, it's possible, just not probable)
to lug Noah and his little bike trailer up and down hills and through traffic.
To be completely honest, I do feel more vulnerable, less in control, when I'm not driving a car.
And that feeling is magnified, oh about one hundred quatrillion times when Noah is in tow.
But I also feel seperate from a certain reality, a certain truth, a new mindfulness that can be found by getting from Here to There another way. I'll share my thoughts and experiences with other transportations soon.

To be continued...  


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Everything is sparkly and new. Or unfamiliar and anxiety-producing.

Finally decided I've had enough of just reading other people's blogs, lurking in the shadows. Time to dust this thing off and try it again...this dialogue with the universe that I call a blog.
We moved over the summer and are settling in (if that's even possible for a vagabond like me).
Takoma Park, MD met and exceeded many of my expectations, but of course, places are spaces full of people and people are full of contradictions. I bump into my own hypocrisy all the time.
One quality that attracted me to this area is that it's a progressive community of artists and activists, extremely diverse, and rich in culture.
Yet...yet...yet, what continues to divide people everywhere divides people here as well.
Money (or lack thereof). Race. Politics.
1) Money: There are home owners. And then there are the rest of us. It's ridiculously expensive to buy a teeny tiny home in this area. We will absolutely not be able to afford a home on Mr. Mad on a Gray Sea's professorial income alone. No big deal, right, I'll just go back to work next year when Noah starts kindergarten. But then, what about our hopes for another child? And when will I ever get out from under my gigantic, stupendous student loan debt? We will remain apartment dwellers for now, biding our time, trying to figure out where to fit and how to structure our lives.
2) Race: Beautifully gorgeous diverse people. Language barriers. Cultural barriers. Practically segregated neighborhoods. Corridors of crime. The aforementioned homeowners, predominantly white, drive their suv's to some important DC job while herds of ethnic nannies push white privileged wiggly babes in their designer strollers.
3) Politics: While it warms my little liberal heart to see so many Obama bumper stickers, Takoma Park certainly exposes the conflicts within the liberal community. The desire to help the poor or racial other(or to even equalize the playing field) doesn't seem quite in balance with the excessively large homes and perfectly manicured landscapes and waste and consumerism and snobbery and disregard for the environment.
Of course, I am harping on the negative aspects of an awesome place. It is awesome here.
There are activists and artists pushing for change and educating each other.
One example: a group of elementary school kids have been protesting the use of styrofoam plates used for their school lunches. Toxic styrofoam, non-recyclable styrofoam, everyday adding to landfills.
The kids would gulp down their (surely over-processed, not Jamie Oliver approved) chow and think about how their plates are polluting the world. So the kids suggested that the school go back to ye old-fashioned, non-disposable plates of yore. Oh but, the school board(?) refused because they didn't want to hire a dishwasher. Anyways, here we have it- the illogical short-sightedness of bureacrats up against (extremely) youthful, wide-eyed idealism...welcome to Takoma Park.   
More to follow from the trenches of a liberal paradise (note the sarcasm and bitterness).
Oh yeah, I landed an internship with GREENPEACE!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

On Popsicles and Swings

Noah has finally figured out how to SWING...all by himself...on a big boy swing.
Here he is swinging and enjoying a popsicle at the same time.
Oh Summertime!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Almost Farewell to Salt City

It's been a busy time for The LeBlanc's.
We are winding up our stay in Syracuse. We've been here for almost 3 years now. At this point in our relationship with a particular locale, we're finally acclimated, we've learned our way around, enjoy the familiar faces and places, have fond memories and friends, know what to expect of a place, know where the potholes are and how to avoid them. 
Now we are packing up and saying our goodbyes. It's a bit melancholic, but totally liberating.
In a way, a burden is lifted. No more investments need to be made. We are slowly working our way free.

Last Tuesday, I worked my final shift at the co-op...
all these adorable children, smiling and sticky,
seesaws and races, duck duck goose,
Noah's first experiences having friends and teachers.

Thursday night, Clark's Ale House with the book club...
beautiful, strong women who open their minds to each other and to the ideas in books they read.
Letting themselves grow...all on journeys...
bracing for inevitable changes to selves, children, life.
On Friday, Michael, Noah, and I visited some fave spots in the Westcott area.
Las Delicias' black beans, slow slow slow roasted chicken, salsa music making my heart sing. All three of us can't help but wiggle-dance in our chairs and hum along to the sounds of Spain and the Carribean.
We had a cup o' joe at Recess and peeked at the community garden across the street.

Saturday, another trip to the Farmer's Market...a few raindrops, bumping into Tara and Aaron...the smell of tomatoes and strawberries and peppers, fried dough rolled in sugar. I will miss the CNY farmers and cheesemakers that have been feeding us their wonderful labors of love. Truly divine lunch from Laos Village. Mmmm- Curry Puffs.

Saturday night, I laughed and laughed at (fellow blogger and fellow co-op mommy) Aubry's performance in the Scream Queens. Sexy, funny, silly! Came home that night and told Michael that I really really really want to get back into theater...earlier that day I had told him that I really really really want to get back into singing after listening to my beloved Pasty Cline...and I've been telling him often that I really really really want to go salsa dancing again. Life is too short, and OH HOW I CRAVE FUN!!
Sunday, we went to Patti's to celebrate Mark's 3rd birthday. So sweet, he could pick one kid to celebrate his birthday with pizza and orange frosted cupcakes, and he chose Noah. I got the extreme privelege of cuddling the newborn, Miles. Awww! So precious!
I've gotten a little more serious about packing this week. No more socializing. Wrapping up each individual dish and trinket is a pain in the tookus. Wouldn't you agree?
Almost farewell to Salt City. 13 days and nights remain.
All of the lovely lovely people I've met here alter me, become a piece of me that I will carry around like a phantom limb.
We are pushing our way out of the Syracuse cocoon-state, and who knows what strange creature will emerge once we reach our new digs in Takoma Park and begin this unknown phase of our lives.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Batter My Heart...and then WHAT?!!

I've been watching some thought-provoking films lately:

The Cove
Food Inc.
Dark Days
The Gleaners and I
The Road

I recommend these if you do, indeed, want your heart battered. When I say 'battered,' I'm referring to violent blows dealt to your vulnerable spots ...not 'battered and deep-fried'.

It's enough to lose faith in humanity.
Hard to be hopeful when there is so much grim and grime and cold-heartedness, ignorance and greed.
From my film list, you might think that I don't know how to have any fun. But don't worry about me. I have enough selfish pleasure in my life- time and laughter with Michael and Noah, delicious food and drink, zumba and salsa dancing, watching birds and flowers, music and art, and the sweet nectar of poetry.
But life, for me, isn't just about how to enjoy. Even though we are constantly given the imperative from all directions to ENJOY, ENJOY, ENJOY!

What do I do with this bombardment of sorrow, this frustration, the feeling that I'm one little person without power to change anything unjust?
I vote. I donate. I make educated choices about what I purchase and consume. I sign petitions. I am kind to people around me. I listen.
But I continue to feel a restlessness, a call to action, a strong desire to do more. I've always been uncomfortable on the sidelines. Do I just put my hands in my pockets? Do I just stare at the players and their passions? I abhor feeling useless.  

Do you ever feel this way? What do you DO when the gray sea's waves crash and thunder and beat you down? And I really mean what ACTIONS do you take when you are moved to act? Not prayer, not optimism, ACTION....
How do you channel that restless, frustrated energy?

Just now, John Donne's Batter My Heart came to mind:

 Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town to'another due,
Labor to'admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly'I love you, and would be lov'd fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me,'untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you'enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

So my question persists...once your heart has been battered, ravished, burned (by a God, or by whatever Unspeakable Truth speaks to you through great Literature, Film, Art)...
How do you live a life broken open? What do you DO?
Teach me. I'm learning as I go.

She's not sleezy! A DIY Bike Project Update.

A mentioned that I was embarking on yet another DIY project a few posts ago. I'm referring to the still unnamed bicyletta that I found all banged up with a floozy-looking day-glo orange paint job.
She just needed a little love and a makeover. I've been working my magic on the old gal, and I'm happy to report- there's progress!
Here's a before shot:
Well, it's actually AFTER I removed and repaired the funky back tire.
Yep, that's right, call on me for all your bicycle repair needs!
I am WOMAN, hear me ROAR!
So this shot is before the paint job:
She's a little bright. In fact, this picture doesn't accurately show how she glows and makes everyone stare and gawk. And when I'm riding a bike down the street, the last thing I need is for everyone to stare. My big booty already attracts enough attention. So I have been painting the old gal. I happened to have some wine colored spray paint in the tool shed. She has a layer of "Claret" and she is suddenly a bit more classy. Pictures to follow! 
I'll add a wicker basket for trips to the Farmer's Market in Takoma Park.  
I do wonder how I will get Noah from here to there with me. He weighs in around 40 lbs, which is the weight limit for those kid seats that attach to the back of the bike. Maybe I'll check into one of those trailers? Is that like becoming a rickshaw driver? Or maybe soon he'll be ready for a big boy bike?
My new, much more elegant transportation still needs a name. I'm considering these possibilities:

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Wildness, Freshness, and other Culinary Adventures

I'm reading and adventuring, so that you don't have to. You can just read about my experiments and then decide whether you want to embark on similar ventures. It's a service I'm offering you. Really. It's kind of like Fear Factor. Dare me! I'll try it! I have no fear.
Unlike Fear Factor, however, I haven't been drinking rancid meat cocktails or diving into piranah invested waters. Instead, I've been trying out new stuff in the kitchen. Culinary adventures.
Here's an update of sorts:

Since I started making my own yogurt, I've been looking for something to do with all of the leftover WHEY. Homeade yogurt is a bit runnier than store-bought, so I like to strain my runny yogurt, which results in the awesomest, thick, rich, Greek-style yogurt. You can make your own Greek-style yogurt or even yogurt cheese by just plopping it in a strainer lined with coffee filters. A bowl underneath catches all the whey as it drips out. The longer you leave it straining, the thicker the yogurt gets until- VOILA- you have CHEESE! 
Anyways, I think it's a shame to just toss the remaining whey puddle. So I checked out a few books on Lacto-fermentation. That's where you use whey to ferment food- change it radically- and wonderfully.
Just think of all you love that relies on fermentation: WINE, BEER, CHEESE, BREAD!!!! But I wasn't familiar with Lacto-fermentation, so I decided to get me some edumacationz on the subject. If you're interested, check these books out (or don't, because I already did it for you, remember!):

Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. This book really opened my eyes. It's partially a very thorough textbook on nutrition, at times delving into biology. It's also a cookbook, with simple recipes on making your own mayonnaise and salad dressing, to more advanced stuff like pickling (with WHEY!). In the picture above, you can see jars of my own Lacto-fermented cukes and carrots. I'd like to report that they are as delicious as they look. But that'd be a bald-faced lie. Sadly, these were not what I'd hoped for. But I'll totally try, try again. The subtitle of Fallon's book is, The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. So it's partially a critique of low-fat, low-carb, vegetarian, and vegan diet know-it-alls. But honestly, I found Sally's tone to be a bit preachy and dictocratic herself. It bugs me when people speak with such aggressive certitude. But, le sigh, we all have our flaws, ironies, contradictions... With that said, I'll probably still invest in a gently used copy of this book because it is so chock full of information. And she quotes the Little House books! I will have to do a seperate post on my undying love for all things Laura Ingalls Wilder. Love you, Half-pint! Blowing you kisses, Michael Landon!

Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz was right up my alley! Katz, an HIV/AIDS survivor who lives in a commune in the woods, began healing himself by incorporating wildness (in the form of live-culture food) into his body. From his website he explains what is so wild about fermentation, "Wild fermentation is a way of incorporating the wild into your body, becoming one with the natural world. Wild foods, microbial cultures included, possess a great, unmediated life force, which can help us adapt to shifting conditions and lower our susceptibility to disease. These microorganisms are everywhere, and the techniques for fermenting with them are simple and flexible." There are recipes for saurkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, and plenty o' brews. A common theme between Wild Fermentation and Nourishing Traditions, is the connection to the past that we can rediscover through food by using these 'primitive' techniques. Nothing much more old-school than the slow-food movement.  

Canning and Preserving with Ashley English. Beautiful book! I mean it. If you like looking at fantastically ripe, gorgeous, seasonal vegetables and fruit, this book could very well be your new porn. She seperates the book by seasons and encourages you to can and preserve according to what is currently in season in your area. She explains and illustrates canning techniques thoroughly for the newbie. She has basic recipes for pickling and such, but she goes way beyond with recipes for exotic chutneys, marmalades, and sauces. Lip-smacking! She also has a great blog, another book on keeping chickens, and one about tending bees coming out soon too. In other words, I want to be Ashley when I grow up. Don't be misled, Ashley doesn't do Lacto-fermentation.

For Mother's Day, it snowed here in Syracuse. All. Day. Long. But on the bright side, my dear husband gifted me two wonderful books. Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg, which I've previously mentioned on this here blog. And Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll (this is the Bible for cheese makers!). Needless to say, I'll be busy in the kitchen.       

Monday, May 3, 2010

Should it stay or should it go now...

I've been going through the attic, basement, and shed trying to determine what to bring with us on our move.
We'll be renting an apartment in Takoma Park, MD for the first year there. The apartment is within walking distance to Michael's college, which is fabulous since Michael will not have to commute (which is a big pain in the boot-ay and the tookus -both-  if your in the DC area). We'll finally be able to take advantage of public transportation since we'll be a 10 minute walk away from the Metro station. Noah and I can hop on the train and within a few minutes arrive at the National Zoo (PANDAS!), or the Lincoln Memorial, or the Smithsonian, or the White House. I'm so excited that we'll be able to reduce our carbon footprint by living a more urban existence.
However, some of the good life we're enjoying here in Syracuse must be sacrificed.
Space will be limited. Even though the house we're living in was most surely built for hobbits or dwarves, it still has more space than our Takoma Park apartment will have. So I am trying to decide what is essential, and it is challenging- not because I'm some sicko hoarder- but because I'm such a nostalgic sap. Is there a difference? I hope so!

The attic is full of boxes of books. I open a box and find old friends waiting for me to pick them up again, authors from pre and post-high school, early loves of mine: J.D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Robbins, David Gerrold, and oh yeah, Piers Anthony! Needless to say, I can't say goodbye. They will join us to yet another home not quite big enough for all our books. What will I do with them all? Line every wall with bookshelves bursting full? Probably.

The basement is mostly full of TOYS. Goodness gracious. Noah is only 4. Where did all this primary-colored plastic, made-in-china junk come from? Note to any family members reading this blog: please no more toys...get the boy a membership at the zoo, science museum, or gift him with YOUR PRESENCE!
Noah and I were poking around in the basement yesterday, choosing the destiny of these toys- yard sale, goodwill, or moving to DC. It was pretty sad. Noah only wanted his play doh really, but I talked him into a few other things. I must admit I got a bit teary-eyed when Noah said he didn't want his Little People anymore. Not the Noah's Ark with all the animals that mom so loves to play with? Nope. Not the School Bus with the disabled girl wearing glasses? Nope. Nope. Nope. Apparently the Little People stuff is for babies, and I have a big boy on my hands.

The shed. Oh man. I have to leave much of that to Michael to sort through. When his father died, Michael adopted all of his father's tools, 2 shop vacs, a generator, ladders, work benches, tents and camping supplies, hammocks, bocce ball set, cross country skis, etc, etc, I could honestly go on and on...
There's no way we can take it all with us. Do we really need some of this stuff? But it is painful to let things go when they remind you of someone you love who you'll never see again.

Plundering through the shed, I spied a bright neon pinkish-orangeish ladies bicycle. One of those beach cruisers. It was Michael's mom's, but I can't imagine her ever ever being seen with it, much less riding it!
I've been wanting another bike ever since mine was stolen in Gainesville at the apartments across the street form Denny's. Well, here's a bike. It's back wheel is twisted and it looks like the worst of Daytona Beach- all drunk and begging for attention. I'm going to fix her up and spray paint her...
Maybe I can transform her somehow into the Trek Atwood (seen in all her glory directly below).
I have a sneaking suspicion that the Atwood is named after one of my favorite authors.
I'll definitely give ol' Daytona Girl a new name after her makeover. The Delillo? The Kingsolver? The Neruda? Billy Collins?

Atwood WSD | Bike Path | Trek WSD Bikes

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Saturday on Dagobah

Although wet snow was whipping all around us today, believe it or not, it is Spring here in Syracuse.
Saturday was lovely- in the 60's, sunny.
Our plan was to spend the gorgeous day on a canoe at the Beaver Lake Nature Center.
But our plans often go awry. And that, my friends, is LIFE!
Fed up with consumerism over the holidays, I gave my husband some 'experiential' gifts for Christmas- gift certificates for snowshoeing and canoeing at Beaver Lake. Unfortunately, when we arrived during the long snowy winter to snowshoe, we were told that there wasn't enough snow on the ground for snowshoeing (we did, however, enjoy an enchanting hike through the snow, see photos here)!
Then, this Saturday when we arrived to canoe, we were told that the canoes are not being rented yet due to geese hanging out on the lake and the water being too cold- in case you fall in!
So again, Merry Christmas, Michael! I guess we can just say that his present was a donation to the Beaver Lake Nature Center, a worthy charity indeed.
Even though our best laid plans often crumble, we can still find beauty and joy in the experiences we are graced with. Such was the case for The LeBlanc's on Saturday.
The first thing Noah wanted to do was check on the frogs. We were all curious to see if they had sprung back to life like all the emerging flora. Noah, with his young, strong eyes, spotted this one right away.

Polliwogs wiggled around,
spiders skated on the water's tension, and salamanders sunned.
We followed the Lake Loop trail which led us under an already lush canopy of stately pine and pale birch that wraps around Beaver Lake.

It was forest and swamp mixed together.
We could smell the lake and hear it lapping the shore.
At one point we noticed a sign stating that the trail would last at least another hour, and that if it was close to dusk, then you should turn back now.
It was early. We kept on truckin'.

The geek in me imagined I was
on the Star Wars planet Dagobah.
But witness any Jedi-in-training
standing upside down in the swamp, we did not.

Noah and Michael
on Dagobah's main thoroughfare.

I am a huge fan of Fiddlehead Ferns
curling into themselves.
And pairs of ducks paddling.

Fiddlehead groups,
clusters, clumps.

There were wild violets blooming
and wild roses soon to bloom.
It will be a very fragrant trail come summer.
Noah and Michael played a game of calling to the crows, "Caw, caw," and laughing heartily at their response.

We came to rest
on a swing together and soaked in the last of the day's sweet goodness.
Overall, a grand day, immune to all our schemes.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Prayer

A Prayer

Mary and Grace are in my hands
my companions, though, I'd have gladly
chosen you

and look, here you are,
and I am trapped in this one-sided

where words are spilled
and left to dry out
and wither on the table

without reciprocity
turn away
and ask again

no response
and after all
still no response

How to move
a ghost or blackbird?
I listen for clues in the silence between pages.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Farewell to The Syracuse Daffodils

Our last spring with the Syracuse Daffodils. 
The Syracuse Daffodils. Wouldn't that be a cute name for a little all-girl, retro, lounge singer band? 
They would have to wear yellow dresses and strappy heels, fresh pink lips, dewy skin, and upswept do's.
Singing "Try a Little Tenderness,"  "I'm Sticking With You," and "I'll Fly Away."

After being on the market for less than a week, an offer was made for our house (which is really my mother-in-law's house). This is wonderful news. I was stressing out big time, frantically trying to keep the house presentable for prospective buyers to drop by and peek at. I don't want to jinx us, since nothing is final yet, but it looks like I can start focusing my energy on Decluttering and Packing.
These have all been nibbled up by the Easter Bunny and his crew by now.

                                                        The peeps are long gone.

                          Someone else will have to enjoy the Forsythia next year.

And these.

I hope the new owners take good care of the Lilies...when they finally pop up again.
And the lovely Iris, Phlox, Foxgloves, and Bee Balm.

Very Miscellany: Guilt, Babies, and Makeup

Miscellaneous- consisting of a haphazard assortment of different kinds, dealing with or interested in diverse subjects....

First, the subject of Guilt. I could devote an entire series of posts to this subject, being that I grew up Baptist- which soaked me in the warm southern summer sunbath of guilt like a potent sun tea, steeping, steeping. Yum, tea.  Plus, I simultaneously assume responsibility for things beyond my control, while at the same time wash my hands of everything while muttering a crazy, breathless, Serenity Prayer.
Current Guilt: I'm an awful friend. In fact, I'm practically a foe. My pal, Mary, from MN, who is pregnant with twin girls, has called me several times within the past few weeks. I haven't called her back. Sure, I've been busy (trying to sell our house, plan our move, etc.), and I have diagnosed myself with Pollen Poisoning- which has caused me to crave nothing but sleep and clear nasal passages. But really, these are just excuses. I don't really dig the phone. I'm a 'listener', and often people take liberties with that and babble on and on and fail to breath or ask me how I'm doing. I may adore that particular person (and I'm not referring to Mary), but I don't like to devote much more of my time than necessary to someone's rambling smalltalk. That's what blogs are for! So, I'm a selfish friend. I would much rather spend some time with a pal, maybe enjoying a great dinner, taking a hike together, making toasts and listening to music, or chatting over coffee. But on the phone, I have Noah or Michael tugging at me (usually the friend on the other end of the line has a little one tugging away too), and I'm distracted. And I'm a visual person, I want to see your face, your smile, your eyebrows raised in exclamation. I'm an awful phone friend. But I will call Mary as soon as I finish this post.

Second, babies. I am still not pregnant! There is a sea of bulging bellies all around. But, nope, not mine...well, it bulges slightly, but for all the wrong reasons. By the time I get pregnant again, all the awesome baby names will be taken. Dear Danielle, from co-op and bookclub, bestowed upon her newest addition, the magnificent name of Desmond. I swoon over that name! Thanks, LOST. And Michael, with every intention to make me feel better about not being pregnant yet, says that it's pretty much all in my head, that when I stop wanting it so much, when I feel more secure (ie, after we have moved and settled in our new home turf)...then that is when I will miraculously release that destined fertile egg. He's probably very very right. He means so well, but that all translates to: Madona, you're crazy, once you stop being so crazy, you'll get pregnant.
Well, Patti has loaned me her Fertility God, which she claims worked for her. So, cross your fingers, say your prayers, send electronic fairy dust, whatever it is you do, and let's get me preggers, people!

Third, makeup. I don't know how aware you are of the Crunchy Chicken. Well, she is one extraordinary blogger, who irreverently puts the 'mental' in 'environmental'. I'm a loyal reader and Diva Cup convert (too much info, I know). Anywho...she has fantastic giveaways, and she so kindly selected lil' ol' ME as a winner of her Gabriel Cosmetics giveaway. Yep, she mailed me $50 worth of makeup. Now I am not rubbing poison into my eyes or swallowing lead from my lipstick. I'm very very grateful.
So this brings me full circle to that ever-present Gulit I mentioned earlier. I feel indebted to Crunchy now. I feel guilty that I don't deserve to be a winner! How can I ever repay the Chicken?! I hope she never becomes my friend and expects me to actually call her. On. The. Phone. I would be totally and completely paralyzed by my guilt.

Gray Sea

Gray Sea