Wednesday, June 28, 2006

There's a Lot of Growing Going on Around Here

News flash! Julia's sleeping in her "big-girl bed" (toddler bed) tonight for the first time! She looks like such a big kid too, so accustomed are we to seeing her securely ensconced in her white baby crib these past two years.

Big Kid Bed, originally uploaded by Tassava.

In other news, neither my maternity tankini top nor my favorite white maternity strappy tank top actually cover my entire straight-out-to-there basketball-belly any longer. We've got eight weeks to go, people.

(Please note: the phrase "maternity tankini top" is one I can safely say I never would have thought I would utter in relation to my own personal wardrobe. But there you go.)

What's That?

Our quart-sized observer has recently made some big leaps forward in her attempts to understand what the $#&%# is going on around this joint. Her former, "Eh? Eh? Eh?" has (almost entirely) been replaced by a chirpy little, "What's that?" and helpful pointing gesture. At various points in the past few days, she's asked about rear-view mirrors, cows, unfamiliar items in various Seismic Teat Sesame Street books, gardening tools at Target, the items in various aisles at Cub Foods, the contents of my work bag, my Mac's desktop photo of "her" chalk drawings, and my new bike helmet. God only knows what she quizzes Mama on.

She's also pushing beyond this simple empiricism by asking semi-rhetorically, "What's Julia doing?" whenever she does pretty much anything. Anything at all. Some answers I provided yesterday:
"Running down the aisle at Target."
"Drinking your water."
"Eating pasta."
"Walking up the stairs."
"Standing on your bed."
"Coloring giant circles."
"Making a funny face."
"Washing your hair."
"Brushing your teeth."
"Holding your Ernie doll."
"Throwing Ernie headfirst down the steps."

You get the picture, surely. I'm entertained by and curious about her constant inquiry. On the one hand, it's clearly a way of attracting parental attention to such feats as holding our hands (and less mundane accomplishments like riding in the "big kid cart" at Target). She's on her way to the "Watch me, Daddy!" stage, which, honestly, I'm dreading a little bit (having seen it at an extreme with one of Julia's cousins).

On the other hand, the stream of questions is obviously also a way to learn new things, especially vocabulary but also purposes, relationships, and qualities. (You should have heard how long I had to talk about the rear-view mirror!) All in all, it's pretty charming. And her retention should be the envy of any postadolescent. I don't think she forgets a single word she learns. SAT, here we come!

Monday, June 26, 2006


It's Monday, and I'm makeup-less. I haven't either washed OR pulled back my hair (meaning that it is currently hanging lankly around my face in a rather unflattering, but fabulously low-maintenance, manner), AND Julia and I are in the midst of trying to plan an after-nap park playdate with some pals for later today. What does all this mean, you ask? Well, allow me to clarify.


This is a major deal to me, and to our family. Three years ago, before I was even pregnant with Julia, I opened my own business, a solo part-time private practice that kept me busy two evenings a week on top of my full-time day job. I was (and am) very proud of this accomplishment; I'd dreamed for a long time of having my own practice. It took courage and creativity to take such a leap, and it was enormously satisfying in many ways.

When Julia came along, I quit my full-time job but returned to my practice when she was 2-1/2 months old. We needed the income, and I wasn't ready to give up my practice yet, despite feeling torn in two different directions when trying to juggle baby care, breastfeeding, sleep, and the demands of solo clinical work. More than once I harriedly fielded phone consults from professional colleagues or clients in crisis while the baby screamed in the background and the teakettle boiled over, because guess what? You can't confine mental health care to the hours of 5 to 9 p.m. when your husband is home to deal with the baby. Sometimes you have to make, or take, a phone call while a diaper leaks poop all over you, the UPS man is ringing the doorbell, and the baby needs to nurse. I am sure some psychiatric colleagues of mine were rolling their eyes on their side of the phone, thinking, What an unprofessional loser! as they heard the mayhem on my end of the line. But that's okay.

Anyway, we moved to Northfield, an hour from my office, and I got pregnant again, and Christopher and I decided enough was enough, for now. I gave all my clients notice way back in March, and I closed up my practice last week. I know I'll need to work again, and that I'll probably open my own practice again, too, sooner or later, so I'm not overly sad about closing my practice, though of course it was somewhat bittersweet.

Mainly I am simultaneously thrilled about the prospect of being free to focus all my energy and attention on full-time parenting, AND terrified that our resulting sorry financial state will make this situation untenable within months. Because to be honest, as my friend Elise says, on paper the numbers just don't add up. We have relied on my practice income for a good number of household bills, not to mention any number of "extras" like coffee dates, toddler swimming class, gifts, ice-cream outings, and various other nonessential treats. On the other hand, in situations like this, meaning matters of the heart and/or of personal values, we always seem to find a way to make things work. And the fact of the matter is, to Christopher and me right now, having me give up my "outside" work to fully embrace at-home motherhood, and the emotional freedom and fulfillment that doing so brings our family right now, feels worth the financial worries.

Bye now---I'm off to the park with Julia rather than off to my office with a headache and an iced coffee. Happy Summer!


I can't not link to this fantastic Wendell Berry poem, posted by my fellow blogger Alex over at After School Snack. It's an amazing piece of work.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Attack of the Red Fuzzy Muppet

The other weekend, when Christopher arrived home from New York, he came bearing gifts, including a big bright Elmo doll for Julia with a computer chip inside, such that he (Elmo, that is, not Christopher) can repeat 25 different phrases when you squeeze his hand. Several of the phrases actually incorporate Julia's own name (courtesy of the programming skills of the toy store clerk in NYC). As in, "Hi...Julia!" "Elmo loves you...Julia!" And he's LOUD. I know: we have searched high and low for a totally low-tech Elmo doll, one that doesn't say or do ANYTHING, and guess what--they don't exist. Unfortunately, none of these noisy Elmo dolls have on/off switches either: if you don't want to go crazy hearing the same phrases over and over all day long, you have to dig around inside Elmo and perform surgery on him, removing the battery.

Anyway, as you might imagine, Julia was THRILLED BEYOND BELIEF with her gift, since she is obsessed with Elmo (again: never even seen Sesame Street, so go figure). She didn't quite know what to make of the fact that he could talk to her, and say her name. Nor was she successful at squeezing Elmo's hand hard enough to get him to talk---she needed some help with that. But come bedtime, Elmo was her first choice for a crib companion. She snuggled up happily with Elmo under one arm, her blankie under the other.

A couple of hours after Julia conked out, with the house quiet save for the static of Julia's white-noise machine coming through the baby monitor, Christopher and I were watching the recent Woody Allen thriller, Match Point, on DVD. Just as we got to the moment of greatest suspense in the film--picture the two of us leaning forward on the couch toward the TV screen, practically holding our breath while the main character snuck around his in-laws' estate after his murderous act, trying to return the gun and bullets to the cabinet before his wife walked in on him--out of nowhere, a strident, otherworldly voice shrieked tinnily nearby, "HI, JULIA!....I LOVE YOU, JULIA!"

A moment of disorienting, but retrospectively hilarious, mayhem ensued. Christopher and I both jumped about a foot, I turned to the baby monitor, waving my arms wildly, and yelled to Christopher, "ELMO! IT'S ELMO!", and Christopher disappeared up the stairs faster than he's moved in a long, long time. Elmo kept talking loudly, clearly being crushed by the toddler who had rolled over onto him in her crib, and I cringed, assuming that Julia would wake up crying any second from the noise. A few moments later, Christopher came back downstairs, holding the ebullient Elmo, shaking his head.

Stupid parents: forgot to take out the batteries before Julia took Elmo to bed. And, by the way, though Elmo practically gave the two of us heart attacks from fright, Julia didn't even wake up. We removed the batteries and then returned Elmo to her crib when we went up to bed. We still haven't replaced the batteries, and Julia hasn't said one word about why Elmo is so quiet.

Just Don't Sing

Don't you just love toddlerisms, those endearingly blunt, to-the-point phrases that come out of the littlest mouths before syntax and tact are appropriately internalized? I do. I wish I could record every one of Julia's best and most entertaining verbal nuggets, but usually when she says something cute or funny we're in the middle of doing something or going somewhere or eating something or laughing our heads off, and then I forget them. Still, here are a few from recent days.

Pretty much every time we're listening to music these days, and I am (as always--I can't help it!) singing along, I hear an insistent little voice nearby, instructing, "Don't Mama sing!" Sometimes she'll add, "Just Dan Zanes." OK, then. (This reminds me of an essay I once read in the wonderful anthology Toddler, which involved an almost exact interaction....anyone else read it? I can't recall the title but I remember it was fabulously written and very touching.)

While exuberantly running across the bouncey bridge and flying down the slide at the park yesterday afternoon, Julia kept repeating joyfully, "Having good fun! Having good fun today!" Two-year-olds are masters at appreciating the simplest pleasures of life, aren't they?

While Christopher changed her diaper the other day and I was sitting nearby, Julia looked over at me, sighed, and whimpered plaintively, "Need some Mama. Need some Mama!" In a moment, she elaborated: "Need some Mama. Give her a hug."

Really, now: does it get any better than that?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Life in Northern Towns VI

Today I purchased, for two bucks, a big bag of "play sand" at Home Depot. It'll be put to use in a sandbox for Julia, but that noble purpose didn't allay my sense that it's wrong to buy sand. Back in the day, my dad would get sand for our sandbox by simply driving to the gravel pit and throwing a few shovelfuls in the back of the truck. If he paid for it, he probably used muskrat pelts or something similarly rustic. I'm pretty sure my sandbox was the best one ever. The high point of my life in the sandbox was burying my toy Landspeeder, with Luke Skywalker in the driver's seat, in the sand one fall, then digging it up in the spring, dirty but intact. Tatooine had nothing on the U.P.! (Neither did Hoth.)

Definition of a Hearing Aid

I love this kind of occupation-specific humor, as seen on my audiologist's office wall:
A hearing aid is an ultra-miniature electro-acoustical device that is always too large.

It must amplify sounds one million times, but bring in no noise.

It must operate without failure in a sea of perspiration, a storm of talcum powder, or a cave of wax.

It is a product which one puts off purchasing for ten years, but then cannot do without for 30 minutes of servicing.

Buzz Buzz Buzz

If you stand near Shannon these days (not too near: her belly will prevent that), you'll hear a faint sound that's akin to bees. It's not bees, though: it's blogospheric buzz. Literary Mama is the latest site to link to Shannon's piece in the Mother's Movement Online, asking readers to "be sure to check out the comments which include a fascinating back and forth between readers and author of the MMO essay "Lucky": Shannon Hyland-Tassava." The comments on Mom Writes, Mary Tsao's blog, have multiplied, too.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Ear and There

One of Julia's favorite activities is "tea party," which is actually a complicated process of sitting at her little table with Dad or Mom and a plethora of stuffed animals, then running to her room - variously called the "groshey store" or "Coob" or "Targit" - to "buy" things you might need at a tea party, such as fruit, cocoa, strawberries, strawberry tea, crackers, cookies, fizzy water, pizza, et cetera.

Today, my regular afternoon tea party was interrupted by an errand to "Targit" to buy "earrings for Mama wif earing aids for Daddy!" I almost split my stomach laughing at her toddlerish equivalence of Mom's ear ornaments with Dad's hearing instruments. But I suppose, to her, it's perfectly clear: Mama doesn't wear hearing aids (yet!), and Daddy doesn't wear earrings, so, you know, QED.

It Was a Summer Night Oh Yes It Was

Welcome to Xferen, Justin Roberts fans! We're glad you linked over and hope you enjoy the blog half as much as we enjoyed Justin's show. Feel free to nose around; there's lot of mommy- and daddy-blogging here.
- Christopher and Shannon

Around our house, we’re still under the spell of the wonderful evening we spent last night, when children’s musician Justin Roberts—singer and songwriter of some of the catchiest, cleverest, most non-adult-annoying kids’ music you’ll ever hear, and, in our particular social demographic, wildly popular among tots and their happy parents alike—played an outdoor family concert on our sweet little town square. (Yes, our new hometown actually has a town square. And it is adorable.) I don’t know how our tiny little college town got so lucky, but apparently Justin has played this outdoor concert in Northfield for four summers straight.

All day long yesterday, Julia talked excitedly about how we were going to hear Justin sing songs to us downtown, and how we would clap our hands at the end of each song, and then “give him hugs.” (We would have if we could.) Though barely two, Julia adores Justin Roberts—more than Dan Zanes, more (thankfully) than “The Best of Elmo,” more than her CD of Winnie-the-Pooh lullabies (an album with substantially more charms than its description would suggest). We have all his CDs, we listen to them daily, and although no doubt some parents would shudder and roll their eyes at our willingness to subject ourselves to kids’ music all day long rather than forcibly expose Julia to, say, U2 or Wilco (you know, OUR favorite music), I don’t mind even one bit: Justin keeps my hard-to-entertain baby happy and entertained, and his songs are full of the kind of sneaky-smart lyrics that just can’t compare with anyone’s version of “Itsy Bitsy Spider.”

So anyway, we headed downtown last evening to meet two other families for sandwiches at suppertime, then went across the street to the square for the concert. It was a perfect evening: sunny, warm but not uncomfortably hot, low humidity, no mosquitoes, and even the winds had calmed down.

I don’t think words can accurately depict the idyllic scene before us for the next hour, but picture something out of Norman Rockwell, only with J. Crew shorts and Baby Bjorn front carriers. Picture the town square packed with families, the preschoolers and coltish older kids jamming in a spontaneous kiddie mosh pit in front of the stage, the chubby-legged droolers hanging out in onesies and sunhats in their parents’ arms, everyone laughing and dancing and singing and jumping up and down. Picture the sun sinking through the trees beyond the river, throwing everyone into golden relief that turned the children’s hair coppery, like caramel. Picture a bubbling fountain at the center of the square, an old-fashioned popcorn cart, a stand selling watermelon ices. Picture the kids sing-shouting, “And you say, oh my gosh, it’s a great big sun, it’s a great big sun,” all by themselves when Justin told them to carry the chorus, and the peachy-cheeked toddlers stumbling around in a kind of baby interpretive dance contest.

Then picture me, surveying the scene and marveling at its wondrous simplicity: at how something like this would never have been this easy, this quick, this free of parking hassles, this truly family-friendly, in either of the two major cities I once called home. Picture me, my big baby on my hip with the breeze in her white-blonde hair and my almost-born baby keeping up her own groove from the inside out, thinking that next year at this time we’ll be here with both girls, one of them newly three, the other nursing to sleep under the trees. Picture me looking at all the moms in linen capris and tank tops, at the dads with their digital cameras and complicated strollers, knowing full well that to all my childless friends, this would seem like the dorkiest, most tedious way to spend an evening imaginable, but thinking now, Little, little, little do you know.

And what about Julia in all this? Well, she was amazed and enthralled, clapping her hands and shouting, “More songs!” at the end of every tune, her lips stained red from the thrilling treat of a shared sno-cone. She was jumping and grooving to the beat in her little red-striped sundress, not sure what to make of the mayhem, but loving it. She was on her daddy’s shoulders at the front of the action, eyes glazing over as it grew increasingly past her bedtime, humming and watching, saying her own private goodnights. And when the grade-schoolers were hyped-up and the babies were dazed and tired, Justin bid everyone goodbye and we all walked up from the river with our families in hand, and Christopher and I talked to Julia about how even Justin had to go home to go nighty-night, with HIS babies, and that we’d all have sweet dreams now, about music and sno-cones. Don’t you think she did, too? I do.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Jazzy Times

The entertainment high point of my trip to NYC was a jazz show at the famed Village Vanguard by Argentinian pianist Guillermo Klein and his 11-piece band, Los Guachos. The show was fantastic, not least for my being in the house's best seat: literally an arm's length from the alto saxophonist, Miguel Zenon. How close was I? So close that when he stood for a solo, I had to move back to give him space. It was loud enough that my hearing aids hummed for seconds after each song.

After the incredible music itself, the coolest thing about the show was that it was written up the next day in the Times. The photo shows Klein in the background; the tip of my nose is at the very edge of the frame, just beyond the bell of the Bill McHenry's saxophone. I've never before been cropped out of a photo in the New York Times!

Passing "D" Train

Passing "D" Train, originally uploaded by Tassava.

I'm still decompressing from my 48 hours in New York City, which passed as quickly as the "D" express, but here are some photos!

Mommy Wars

Let me brush aside these blog tumbleweeds to say that my wife, Shannon, is getting some buzz for her aforementioned essay at Mother's Movement Online. I've been blogging for years and I've never gotten anyone to say mean things about me! Well, not really. Go read Shannon's piece! Again, if you have to! And make a comment or ten!

(Cross-posted to After School Snack.)

Friday, June 16, 2006

Life is a Ferris Wheel

It's Friday night, and Christopher is due back from NYC any minute (if the rain and flash flooding in the Cities will stop long enough for his plane to land, that is). Julia has been asleep since 8 (though in her crib since 7:10, when I decided the day had been long enough). When I put her to bed, I reminded her, "Daddy will come home tonight while you're sleeping, and when you wake up in the morning, you'll see him!" She blinked up at me for a moment, then grinned and yelled, "TEA PARTYYYYY!" I told her, yes, I'm sure Daddy will be happy to have a tea party with you the moment you wake up. (And then I thought, better him and not me.)

We had a good day, despite the fact that, once again, I barely slept last night and was a little worried about my mental state now going on three days/nights of exhaustion. Right after breakfast, we drove up to our old neighborhood in Minneapolis to visit some friends we don't see often enough anymore now that we live almost an hour away. Julia and her toddler buddy drew with sidewalk chalk in the backyard, played with a dollhouse, had a snack, and then we all walked to a nearby playground where the two mamas (both of us pregnant) sat sweating in the extreme humidity and the two toddlers explored. In the early afternoon, Julia and I hit the road for home in hopes of snagging a nap. Naturally, Julia didn't sleep in the car, and only napped an hour once we got home, but all in all it was a good mini road trip and fun to see old friends again.

I'm glad my three days of solo parenting are almost at an end, and yes, this stint did test my pregnancy energy (or lack thereof), but my overall impression of this week was that it was a lot easier than I expected it to be. (Note that this is not the same thing as saying it was EASY.) I've been thinking a lot about this. Is it, as a friend of mine with a preschooler once described after her spouse took a ten-day work trip, the fact that when you know you don't have anyone coming in to take over your parenting shift, you somehow produce MORE patience and energy rather than less, because part of your brain adjusts to the knowledge that you don't have a choice? (Also note that the idea of a TEN-day stint of solo parenting, rather than the THREE I have just withstood, gives me the shakes and causes me to count my many blessings.) Is it the power of sheer determination and strong espresso? Is it adrenaline?

I suspect that a big part of it is that, along with the fact that obviously Julia has changed since she was smaller and needier, that I have changed too: that I have more stamina as a parent than I once did, and more than I knew I had---stamina that has grown and developed like a muscle over my past two years of parenting, without my even realizing it at the time. It's nice to know that it's there for me to call on when I really need to, despite how depleted I may feel much of the time these days.

Unrelatedly, I'd like to report that my sweet and smart daughter has tagged as her current favorite song a very charming Dan Zanes tune about a Ferris wheel called "Wonder Wheel," which is so clearly a lovely allegory for, well, life: "I went to a weekend fair/met someone while I was there/we put flowers in our hair/and rode the Wonder Wheel/So begins another day/crazy stops along the way/think of funny things to say/and ride the Wonder Wheel..." Julia loves it, and before I even noticed it or what it was about, she was saying "Yet's yisten dat one AGAIN!" in her wonderfully enthusiastic way every time it played on the stereo. Well, why not, I say.


Thursday, June 15, 2006


"Oy," as they say here. I'm tuckered from a loooong day. The day shift was a seven sessions at my conference. The night shift was a zig-zag walk from Times Square down to the West Village, seeing some sights on the way, a fantastic show by Guillermo Klein at the Village Vanguard, and then a walk up 7th Ave. back to Times Square. 3.6 miles walked, forty photos taken, two gin & tonics heard, twelve great songs heard. Photos here.

More Blogging the Solo-Parenting Days

So: we've made it to the end of Day Two Without Daddy at Home, and everyone's still functioning and intact. Yes, I indulged in a couple iced coffees today, and yes, Julia was a little overtired in the afternoon, but overall I think we did pretty well. Plus it was an extra good day because some of my writing got published today (see below).

This morning it was dark and stormy-looking outside, so I didn't dare take Julia to the park to play. Yet, I really wanted to bring her somewhere to run around and burn up some energy, hopefully resulting in a good nap this afternoon. On a whim, I decided we'd drive to the Faribo West Mall in nearby Faribault, MN, about 15 miles away. We'd never been there, and I knew it wasn't going to be any Southdale, but I figured, hey, it's closer than the Cities, and Julia can run down the halls and tire herself out. I didn't need (or want) to buy anything, I just wanted to get us out the house and somewhere we could walk.

Oy vey, people. This was the saddest, most depressing excuse for a mall that I have EVER SEEN, and I've seen a few. I mean, it was so, so pathetic that it was actually ridiculous. It was such a huge waste of time to drive there--maybe 20-25 minutes on the 2-lane highway and then some twists and turns through and around the little town--that it's actually somewhat hard to describe. Picture a trashy, tiny Big Lots as the mall anchor. Picture a mall so small we could walk from one end to the other in five minutes---that's WITH a toddler. Picture a Hallmark trumpeting its Going Out of Business Sale, a Radio Shack, a nail salon, an insurance company, an athetic-apparel store with a tracksuit advertising Corona in the display window, an ancient-looking Maurice's, and one of those super-depressing Chinese buffet restaurants that are always empty and that have fluorescent-bright photographs of the entrees on the wall outside the door. Picture, instead of a food court or even one fast-food restaurant, an open alcove near the center of the mall lined with vending machines, with a neon sign above it boasting, "Snack Center." Oh, so sad.

But. Here's the cute, sweet part. Near the "Snack Center," there was a platformed cluster of those little coin-operated kiddie rides: a miniature police car, an ice cream truck, a spaceship. Julia was intrigued. I didn't need to actually use any money to operate any of these rides; Julia would have been too scared of them if I had. But she wanted to sit in them, and did so for quite a few minutes. To her, this was interesting, fun, and exciting. Oh, and then there was the closed-up Hispanic party-supply store with the Elmo pinata in the window ("Elmo pee-yata! Elmo pee-yata!" she gleefully shrieked to her dad on the phone later in the day when he called to check in from NYC). MORE THAN exciting, this was downright thrilling. The fact that my little Sweet Pea could derive such joy out of the most depressed, and depressing, shopping venue I have ever seen was very sweet, actually. And she didn't even complain when I told her that was enough, it was time to go. She's such a good sport--such a good citizen, as Catherine Newman would say about her firstborn, Ben.

On the way home, at a red light, touched by her well-behaved demeanor as she sat obediently in her carseat listening raptly to Dan Zanes on the car stereo the whole half hour home from our anticlimactic outing, I reached back and patted her leg and said, "You're my best buddy, Sweet Pea," and she looked up at me with the sweetest, most demure little smile, and said happily, "Yeah." She really is, too.

Oh, and by the way--today Julia actually liked most of the songs on the Dan Zanes CD. Instead of saying "Skip dat one!"or "Don't yike dat song EITHER!" to every track, she actually said, "I YIKE dat song!" appreciatively several times, and made me repeat the circus elephant one a few times in a row. I didn't mind, it's truly adorable.

Goodnight, all. There's 1 more solo-parenting day to go, and we've got a bit of a drive tomorrow.

Luck - A Four-Letter Word?

I'm proud to report that the June issue of the Mothers Movement Online, a great site on modern motherhood, features an essay by my spouse, Shannon. The piece, entitled "Who are you calling 'lucky'?" , is summarized by the MMO editor as a look at
the economic trade offs of being a stay-at-home mom. Readers may find this essay controversial, but I invite a careful reading. What do families give up when one income barely covers the basics, but mothers and fathers have a preference for parental care? And what are we really talking about when we talk about "luck"?
She leaves out the fact that it's exceptionally well written and very much worth your time. Comments are, of course, eagerly sought - either here or through the cross-post at After School Snack.

The Next Morning (Day Two)

Oh my goodness: so, so tired. Thunderstorms all night long, being weirded out about being alone in the house (except for the baby, I mean), and the fact that Christopher's alarm clock WENT OFF AT 4:30 A.M. this morning (yes, it was still set from yesterday when he had to get up for his flight---GRRRRRR!!!!).....all add up to me getting no sleep last night. My plan to take Julia to another park this morning and run her ragged in hopes of a long afternoon nap are foiled by the weather.

Pass the coffee!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Blogging the Solo-Parenting Days, Continued

So by now we all know just how much fun Christopher is having in New York. Okay, so the journey from the airport to the hotel sounded pretty hellish. But it's clear that the topless guitar-playing lady on the street more than made up for that. It's time for a brief update on how things are going back at home.

Julia and I survived our first day alone! I didn't fall asleep while reading "I Love You As Much" for the tenth time in a row! No one cried or had any temper tantrums. We did miss Daddy, but that is to be expected. (Somewhat alleviated by his pre-trip promise of a present upon his return--for Julia, I mean, though I believe I'll get something out of the deal as well.)

Julia woke up around 7:45 and instantly remembered Daddy was "bye-bye, at work, airpane." She was in a great mood though, sweet and cheerful, and she even allowed me to dress her in one of her new birthday outfits with no argument (she's going through an extremely stubborn wardrobe-pickiness phase, and most mornings, every clothing suggestion is met with, "No. Don't yike dat one. Put it away."). Though the sky threatened rain, we were able to play at a park, go for a walk in the stroller so Mama could get some exercise (I unashamedly bribe her into these stroller jaunts by timing them with her morning snack, so she can sit in the stroller and eat string cheese and, thrillingly, dry cereal--one of her most favorite things--which keeps her occupied while I raise my heart rate), and visit Target (of course!) for a few cleaning supplies we needed (and to check out the beloved "puppy seat," a blue plush tot-sized chair shaped like a dog that Julia is extremely in love with.)

We have been listening to a new (to us) Dan Zanes CD lately, "Family Dance," and Julia has begun to evaluate each song's opening strains for suitability and, often, say, "Don't yike dat song," and then, if you don't respond quickly enough, "Skip dat one!" This has gotten a little ridiculous, as today on our way home from Target she proclaimed most every song on the album as unlikable (except the one about carrying the water for the circus elephants, and, sweetly, the lovely, waltz-like evening serenade at the very end of the CD, which we call "the circle one"). But then she really cracked me up. After nixing a few songs in a row, she resorted to saying, "Don't yike dat song EITHER!" when the next one began. And she pronounced it like I do, like "EYE-ther". Something about this just cracked me up. Maybe because I've never even heard her say the word "either." Maybe because it sounded so adult. Maybe the way she practically yelled "EITHER," not really to be rude, just to be very, very emphatic.

Suppertime was the grand finale to our day. We met another mom and her toddler for dinner downtown at the Contented Cow. I had to order not only a turkey sandwich for me (and to share with Julia, I knew), but also a kids' mac-and-cheese for Julia AND a pink lemonade, all because there was a $10 minimum on debit/credit cards and I didn't have any cash. I knew Julia wouldn't eat the mac-and-cheese (she didn't), nor did I want the lemonade, but my options were limited. So anyway, imagine Julia's reaction when she saw the pink lemonade. I should mention here that Julia has never had juice, other than baby prune juice as an infant when her first tastes of rice cereal made her constipated, and Pedialyte as recommended by her pediatrician this spring when she was dehydrated from a virus with a high fever. She's a big girl, and she just doesn't need the sugar and calories of juice. Her first pediatrician advised us to avoid it, and we'd already decided before she was even born that we didn't want our kids to consume much, if any--preferring instead to train them to like milk and, mostly, water. So when Julia saw this big tall glass of enticing pink liquid, she looked at it intensely and quizzically, pulling on my arm, and saying over and over, "Mama's....water?" Because it was hectic and a little bit crazy there, I let her take a few sips. Yowza! Nectar of the gods! She was hooked. "More, more, more," was a word I heard repeatedly during our fun, but rather harried, supper. Finally I diluted it in her water sippy cup and let her have at it. She couldn't get enough of the stuff, and finally, after a large gulp, exclaimed enthusiastically, "Baby Julia YUV YEMONADE!!!!"

Oh, and since my sandwich came with potato chips (something I was not aware of when I ordered it), and since due to a lack of highchairs at this pub Julia was sitting right next to me on the booth bench, sharing my plate, naturally she decided that chips were preferable to turkey sandwich or the sliced cucumbers I'd brought from home.

So: dinner consisted of pink lemonade and potato chips. I supposed considering the fact that Daddy is out looking at topless guitar players (just kidding, honey! I know you're at a WORK CONFERENCE!), it's only fair that Julia gets to live it up a little bit too.

Go-Tham, Young Man

More photos from New York (and a few of the same.)

Somewhere, Someone's Buying

Two reasons why it is hard not to spend money in New York.

First, in the “micro” category: the keycard to my room, one side of which is an advert for a musical playing in the hotel’s theatres.

Second, in the “macro” category: the entire ten-story edifice of a building facing the Square is a giant video screen, which blazes with ads. It’s really mindbending to watch, like a dozen Jumbotrons without the sports scores.

Getting There Is the Hardest Part

So, I'm in New York. I can actually hearing the taxis honking at each other as they try to go up Broadway.

Getting to New York was – so far – the hardest part of this midwesterner’s trip, entailing getting up at 4:30 a.m. and hitting the road by five to catch a crowded 6:45 flight to JFK, which lived up to its deprecations as a baaaad airport. After landing and managing the utter lack of signage, I was on my SuperShuttle to Manhattan by 10:45. I was still in the SuperShuttle to Manhattan at 12:45. The straightline distance from JFK to Times Square is maybe seven miles, but our trip was marked first by a series of visits to a number of other airport terminals (we never did find Mr. Pastore), a bonafide jam on the Van Wyck Expressway from the airport, and then a stop-and-go thirty minutes in the Midtown Tunnel, with the windows open, sucking in the terrible fumes. And the crosstown traffic in Manhattan wasn’t exactly quick fast in a hurry, either. At one point, I noticed a colorfully dressed woman walk past us. A few blocks later, we passed her again: she was sitting at a sidewalk café, halfway through her sandwich. We finally made it to the hotel just before 1 p.m.

After checking in, I ditched my stuff and headed out for lunch. Cruising in a big loop around Times Square (which those conniving New Yorkers misnamed: it’s really a long triangle!), I found a nice little pizza joint at 45th Street and the Avenue of the Americas. The pizza – one slice of pepperoni, one of spinach – was great; I enjoyed it sitting in a quiet, leafy plaza right full of lunching office workers. The only downside to the setting was that the other end of my park bench was covered in fresh puke.

After that, I had a half-hour before the first session I could attend in full, so I went hunting for presents for the homebound loved ones. These were relatively easy to find, as there are a number of shopping venues on Times Square. No one seems to yet chosen to turn on the AC in NYC, however: it was probably 90 degrees in Toys R Us, and both that hot and much louder in the Virgin Megastore.

And but so, on the way back to the hotel, I passed this sight, which should probably go into the “Only in New York” category. She was singing, although I don’t think anyone was listening. Her counterpart, the famous Naked Cowboy, was at the other end of the median, albeit without pasties.

Then, I went to meetings. No one was topless. Or playing guitars.

Blogging the Solo-Parenting Days

At 5 a.m. today, Christopher left on a 3-day business trip. He doesn't travel for work much--only once or twice, I think, since Julia was born--and this is the first time I'll be alone with Julia for more than 1 day. Now that she is the age that she is, and is no longer a.) nursing around the clock; b.) refusing to sleep; and/or c.) as super-dependent and helpless as a younger baby is, this wouldn't normally be such a big deal. Except, as you know, I am 7 months pregnant and am really, really tired during this pregnancy--WAY more tired than a normal person. As much as I treasure my days with Julia, right now I LIVE, even more than usual, for 4:30 p.m. when I am "off duty" (aside from cooking dinner, which is my job in our household). In the evenings, Christopher takes over childcare, and I can exercise, read, bathe, or, more frequently, nap or lie comatose on the couch until falling into bed. The only days I feel even halfway normal are the ones during which I drink some caffeine, hence my inability to give up caffeine during this pregnancy. Even then, I often feel physically sick from tiredness and have more than once called C. at work to beg him to get off a little early because I don't think I can keep my eyes open any longer.

So, you know, I'm a little worried about how these next 3 days are going to go. Here's how it's gone so far. At about 3 a.m., I get up and turn off the ceiling fan in our bedroom, despite how hot and stuffy it is, because the chain has been clinking the light fixture and keeping me awake for the past hour. At 4 a.m., I get up and pull the room-darkening shade all the way down to obscure the semi-light coming in from the huge sky outside our open window, again despite how stuffy it is in our room, because the light is keeping me awake too. The cacophony of bird-sounds that makes it sound like we live on the edge of a jungle instead of a farmfield has begun. At 4:30 a.m., C.'s alarm goes off for his flight to NYC. Naturally I lie awake the whole time he is showering and preparing to leave, because I am the world's lightest sleeper. At 6 a.m., still awake and being serenaded by the birds, thunder begins. I curse the noise and hope it doesn't wake up Julia. At 7 a.m., I apparently have dozed off because I awaken to the sound of what I think is Julia peeping over the baby monitor. Since I absolutely detest having her wake up before me and thus not having time to brush my teeth, wash my face, etc., before attending to her pathetic morning whimpers of, "Mama coming....Daddy coming....Mama coming too!", I jump out of bed for the day, realizing that I have gotten, oh, maybe 5 hours of sleep total for the night, and realizing that tonight, after a day of playtime and dinner, I will be the one doing bath, stories, and bedtime, and wondering where I will get the energy.

Currently, it is 7:30 a.m., Julia is still asleep (guess I misinterpreted those peeps on the baby monitor) and I'm enjoying my first (and, I promise, I'll try for only) shot of caffeine for the day. If it's not needed today, when by God is it needed?

Luckily, I have a diversion to look forward to today: Julia and I are meeting some friends--another mom and her toddler--downtown for dinner tonight, because her husband is also out of town. And on Friday, we are driving up to our old neighborhood in the city to visit friends for part of the day. Hopefully these things will keep me stimulated enough to stay awake these next 3 days as needed! Wish me luck.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Carleton Goes Green

Carleton gets some propers for its emphasis on sound environmental policy and study. (Some other school does, too.)

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Out in Left Northfield

Continuing in the observational vein, a few things recently seen around Carleton and Northfield.

1. The giant table and chairs which three seniors put up as a prank.

2. A couple weeks back, as I was stopped at the exit to the parking lot, a loud car came barrelling down First Street toward me. It looked like the kind of beater that would have a bad driver at the wheel, so I didn't chance crossing the street. And good thing: he slowed when he saw me, then gunned it when he saw I was giving him the right of way, and the acceleration caused a full-size Weber grill, jammed into the open trunk, to fall out with a horrific clatter, spilling briquettes, ash, grill tools, and the grill rack right in front of me. The car hadn't even stopped when the passenger leapt out to stick the grill, tools, and rack back in the trunk.

3. A small John Deere tractor - the farm kind, not the lawn kind - puttering down the street in front of our house, driven by a very fat shirtless man.

4. Students playing afternoon cricket matches on the Bald Spot over the last few weeks. The headlong motion entailed by delivering the ball to the batter is terrifying: it looks like the bowler is going to fly right into the batsman and get a bat in the head. Interestingly, most of the players looked to be white and probably American; there were just one or two South Asians on the pitch.

5. A student riding his bike at a good clip while using one hand to hold his cell phone to his ear and the other to carry an unlidded cup of coffee. No, his bike didn't appear to have a coaster brake.

6. Driving back home from the Arb on Sunday evening, I had to wait until a massive turkey-hauling truck jake-braked down the hill past my stop sign, then drove back up the hill through a half-mile cloud of white turkey feathers. Didja know Minnesota produces more turkeys than any other state in the Union? Gobble gobble.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Super Blessed

How is it that I got so lucky? Here I am, in the middle of a trying pregnancy rife with tenacious nausea, crazy levels of exhaustion, and myriad distressing pelvic problems---in other words, here I am, often feeling both very pregnant and quite terrible---and, in response to an online link we sent out to our loved ones of a collection of Julia's-birthday snapshots, I get back a bunch of e-mails from incredibly kind and generous friends who effusively tell me that Julia is adorable, that I look lovely and fit, and that our new house and yard are glowing and summery.

I mean, really. What did I do to deserve such sweet, sweet friends who say such overly kind things to a pale, achy pregnant woman whose biggest goal is to make it just ONE DAY without giving in to the temptation of not only a fully-caffeinated iced latte but ALSO a nice frosty Diet Coke later in the day (not to mention the chocolate)? Or whose most healthy lunch in the past week involved large quantities of grease and cheese (there's CALCIUM in there--that's healthy, right)? Or who has been repulsed by most (non-caffeinated) liquids for the past six months, despite constant dehydration, leading to the desperate consumption of questionable sugary drinks in an attempt to drink anything that might not make me gag? Seriously, people, prenatal nutrition this time around is a sad, sad subject. I'm just so, so tired and so, so busy. I have no energy or motivation to care.

But I digress (sort of). What I was originally going to say was, I (and thus, we) are really so blessed. You heard all about it in the post about Julia's birthday, and now Julia and I have had a wonderful week---one that may seem like nothing too special to many people, but which to me was truly cherished and appreciated. The e-mails I received today from our nice friends paying me compliments and expressing such tender joy toward our little family is just the latest happy happening. The rest of the week was great, too.

You see, the weather here has been fabulous lately---truly summery for a few weeks straight. This means that, for the first time since Christopher started commuting down to Northfield from our old house in south Minneapolis last October to begin his new job, I have been able to get out of the house with Julia on a near-daily basis, because Christopher has been able to bike to work and therefore I have had transportation available to me. We own one car between us, and in our old urban days, Christopher took the bus downtown to his former job and I had the car at home, so Julia and I could go to the grocery store, doctor appointments, friends' houses, run errands, whatever. Then he got the job down here, and in October I became car-less. For several months, while we waited for our house in Minneapolis to sell so we could move, I had only Julia's stroller and my own legs for our transportation. As awful as it was to be trapped mostly in the house with a baby for months on end, we were within walking distance of a few sanity-saving places, including a friend's house, two playgrounds, a coffeeshop, a crowded cafe, a tiny bodega, and a small neighborhood grocery store. Still, on rainy/snowy days, life was tough, and you don't know how much you need to go places until you have no way to get there. Nor do you know how much the BABY needs to get out and do new things and be exposed to something other than her same old toys day after day until it's just the two of you and the four walls, and the baby is so unstimulated that she never gets tired out enough to nap.

Then we moved to Northfield, in the middle of winter, and I found myself even more stranded. We now live in a.....I hate to utter the word.....SUBDIVISION. Meaning, there is no place we can walk to. There are sidewalks in our "neighborhood," but they don't connect to anyplace one would need to go. (Let me explain here that we would have much preferred a different location but our price range limited our options.) We're on the edge of town, and the streets leading 1-1/2 miles to the core of cute little downtown Northfield, with its shops and library and grocery store and cafes, are all shoulder-less, sidewalk-less county roads. It's not safe, at least not with a small child (plus the distance would really test the patience of most stroller-bound toddlers). So, until the weather really cleared and a few other circumstances changed so that Christopher was able to begin regular bike commuting, Julia and I were pretty much confined to our house, aside from stroller walks around our neighboring townhouses.

This week we did stay home one day, because there are still some days Christopher needs to drive. But after that we had the best, busiest, most fun week together we've probably ever had, and the effect it had on Julia really illuminated just how much she, too, needs to get out and about.

On Tuesday we were invited over to the house of a little baby buddy of Julia's from her winter toddler class. His mom called in the morning and asked if we wanted to drive out to their house in the country to play. Julia and Nicholas spent two hours in their swimsuits on the enclosed, toy-filled deck, playing in a baby pool and with a water/sand table, while Nicholas's mom and I sat in patio chairs and talked. It was fabulous. On Wednesday we had the regular meeting of a new twice-monthly playgroup at another acquaintance's house. Her toddler is the proud owner of THREE Elmo dolls, so Julia was in a state of nirvana. On Thursday Julia and I met up again with baby Nicholas and his mom, to go swimming at a local hotel that lets parents and tots use their indoor pool for a nominal charge. Julia had never been swimming in a real pool before, and after 90 minutes there, she went home, inhaled an enormous lunch, and immediately crashed for a two-hour nap. (Mama was in a state of nirvana then.) Today, we ran two errands and ate a snack at our favorite coffeeshop; not quite as exciting as our other outings this week, but fun nonetheless and Julia was patient and cheerful throughout.

This whole week, as we have been able to leave the house most every day to do new and fun things either alone or with friends, Julia has slept late every morning and napped at least two hours every afternoon. She's been energized and excited about everything, with almost no displays of the boredom I so frequently see when we're at home every day. When we have come back home after a novel activity, she has happily wandered over to her regular toys and explored them, rather than refusing to play with them or entertain herself as she usually does. In kind, despite my ongoing fatigue and pelvic pain, I've been happy and content, thrilled to be connecting with the outside world a little more and pleased with the prospect of giving Julia a fun-filled summer with me before the new baby comes.

All in all, it's just made me feel very blessed. Such fun days, combined with such sweet and supportive comments from our friends today, make me feel like maybe I'll be able to make it through this pregnancy.

I know Julia feels blessed too, because one of her most frequent utterances is, "Baby Julia so happy!" Sometimes she says, "Baby Julia so happy to be here!" One look at her joyful face and you can just tell she really, really means it.

Commence, Please

It's commencement weekend here at Carleton, and the air is positively charged with excitement. Lots of parents, grandparents, and siblings - all wearing big round buttons identifying themselves as such - are traipsing around in the light rain. The event team is bustling around the Bald Spot, putting up chairs and tents and canopies and such. And of course the seniors are bouncing around happily, hugging each other and looking generally buoyant. It's just such a happy scene - and so rife with good memories - that you can hardly do anything but wish them all the best of luck.

(Then again, watch for contusions: Playing frisbee on the Bald Spot, one student missed his catch and let the disc fly right into his spectating mother's face. Happy commencement, Ma! Thanks for all the tuition!)

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Getting Your Goat

I can almost guarantee that, among the hordes which read Xferen on a daily basis, I am the only one who sees a goat every morning. Out where we live on the edge of town, our neighbors are inclined toward livestock, chiefly chickens. But one house, actually quite a bit closer to town than country, has a tiny pen in the yard, and in that pen is a rather shaggy and impressively horned goat who likes to stand on a rock in the pen and stare at the road down which I bike to work.

The bike commute, which is now a more-or-less daily thing thanks to the nice weather, takes me past, around, through, or over all kinds of interesting things you don't see from a car. For instance, one hundred-yard span of ditch near home contains some found art: a perfectly alternating series of empty cans of Michelob Light and Mountain Dew (downer, upper, downer, upper, downer, upper) and then a deflated beach ball. At numerous spots on my route to and from work, I have to swerve around roadkill birds, mostly crows. How a half-dozen birds managed to get squashed in the past few weeks is a mystery to me. There are also quite a few increasingly blackened gloves and mittens lying in the roads, and an occasional shoe.

The bike ride makes me a participant in some impromptu research into the sociology of commuting. So far as I can tell, the principal investigator is studyign two behaviors: passing and stopping. 1) Almost every time a vehicle passes me, the driver swings all the way into the oncoming lane and guns it to get around me as quickly as possibly. If someone is behind me as we enter the gentle S-curve near home, s/he tends to hover right behind me, waiting to see that the coast is clear, and then whooshes past at what feels like a hundred miles an hour. Red cars, trucks, and SUVs seem to be exceptions to these rules: they go by whenever they like, at high speed, and in very close proximity. 2) One stretch of my commute takes me over city surface streets with several 2-, 3-, and 4-way stops. I always come to a complete halt when reaching a stop sign, but this seems to throw vehicular commuters off. If I'm stopped, cars will often stop, too, even when they don't have stop signs. I'm not sure if the drivers stop because they are surprised to see me, because they're trying to do a good deed by letting me go first, or because they overreact to my having stopped, but it's strange to see. This morning, one guy stopped so abruptly in the middle of a left turn that he almost got rear-ended. He didn't notice because he was so busy waving at me, trying to get me to go first. I didn't, preferring to see him finish his turn and get out of everyone's way.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

2nd Birthday Extraordinaire!

Well, Julia Charlotte is two. Though I will largely spare you more of the whole "where has the time gone?!" melodrama, make no mistake: Christopher and I, and Julia's grandparents, spent all weekend walking around going, "Can you believe it?" and, "Two years ago at this time...." and, "Remember when she fit into THIS?" (said while my mom and I sorted, organized, and shelved a giant Rubbermaid bin's worth of newborn clothes and baby gear in preparation for New Baby's arrival in August) in a haze of sentimental nostalgia. There's no escaping it: the ridiculous racing of time when you've got small children in the house, nor the pangs you feel when you realize those weeks, those months, those periods of time when her face looked like this, or her toes were this tiny, or her legs were this chubby---those moments are GONE. Forever. Gone! Isn't it unfathomable?

And boy, the difference the past year has made. All babies change an enormous degree in one year's time, but honestly, it can be hard to remember Julia's just two and not three on this birthday weekend. I mean, she grew three inches this spring, and is now off the growth charts at 37-1/2 inches tall. She's heavier by far than the average 24-month-old. And her verbal development continues apace: she routinely speaks in paragraphs and strings together 6- and 7-word sentences. People who see us around town assume she's much older than she actually is. And yet: she's only (but already!) two. Still a baby, in so many ways. An OLDER baby, yes---but she still sleeps in a crib and wears diapers and her legs and belly are baby-chubby yet. Personally, I'm glad.

She had a fabulous birthday, aside from one tumble off a playground jungle gym that resulted in a scraped, swollen nose a bit like a baby prizefighter. Other than that, it was all good: celebrations with grandparents spanning two consecutive weekends; soft ice cream cones at the coffee shop and an outing to show off her favorite sculptures on campus where Daddy works; a family party with scads of overly generous gifts including puzzles and bubbles and tiny gardening tools and piles of adorable playclothes and shoes and fluffy bears and Sesame Street figures and sidewalk chalk and a big beautiful wooden play kitchen full of pans and wire whisks and pretend food; cupcakes with crayon candles to blow out; turkey burgers, coleslaw, and berries for a summery supper; mastery of the art of saying, "I'm two!" when asked; and at the end of a magical day, new pj's and sheets for her bed to make going night-night just a little bit easier. Seeing as how she kept repeating, "Baby Julia happy! So happy!" all day long, I think Julia enjoyed her 2nd birthday.

And, proof positive that I am truly a Parent, no longer a Random Adult With a Decently-Decorated Living Room: Julia's new play kitchen, the size of a small piece of furniture (which I guess it is), previously intended for the PLAYROOM upstairs with the other toys, is now ensconced right there in the dining/living area of our main floor, amidst the regular grown-up furniture, where Julia can happily stand at her pretend stove and stir up pretend food in her tiny frying pan, absorbed for a full hour at a time, while Mama cooks for real (or does anything else for that matter). Not exactly a scene out of Dwell, but hey people, YOU try arguing with an angelic-cheeked toddler whose eyes are shining with the excitement of cooking right next to Mama----not to mention arguing with the objective fact that having such a novel plaything right down where the adults are actually causes Julia to ENTERTAIN HERSELF for long periods of time without requiring parental interaction every single second. So much for those well-intentioned plans of keeping most of the play-clutter out of the adult living area. Who was I kidding? We're a family--we might as well look like one.

So, Julia's in 2-year-old heaven. As for her Mama, I'm BEAT. Difficult pregnancies, unseasonable heat, and lots of entertaining don't make the best mix, I've learned. I need about a week of lying on the couch eating leftover cupcakes and drinking Diet Cokes and watching Law and Order reruns (not likely, by the way). HOWEVER, it was all worth it! We had a wonderful time, and these memories will be a part of our family lore forever. And for those of you readers who are also loved ones, watch your e-mail for a Flickr photo collection of Birthday Highlights coming to your inbox soon.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Readers Are Leaders

This makes a lot of sense in these times.
Were we to choose our leaders on the basis of their reading experience and not their political programs, there would be much less grief on earth. I believe ... that for someone who has read a lot of Dickens to shoot his like in the name of an idea is harder than for someone who has read no Dickens.
Joseph Brodsky, writer (1940-1996)

Sweetheart Baby

Remember that line I wrote yesterday about Julia being the sweetest, smartest baby in the entire universe? Want proof? This morning she needed a diaper change, but wasn't quite ready to acquiesce, so I stacked the diaper, box of wipes, and a folded-up changing cloth on the coffee table and went back to the kitchen, giving her a few more minutes of playtime before pressing the issue. After a few moments, Julia came running over to me at breakneck speed, chubby little legs a blur, arms flying, big grin on her face, yelling, "Good JOB! Good JOB!" She then led me back to the living room and pointed at the floor, where she'd set the diaper and the wipes box, and, in the best rumpled fashion that she could, laid out the changing cloth on the carpet. You should have seen her face. She couldn't have been more proud of herself and eager to show Mama what she'd done if she'd just scaled Mount Everest. What a little "hweet-heart," as Julia would call herself.