14 December 2010


Dear Readers,

First off, let me state that I may just be the only person in the Chicagoland area who likes winter.  And my four year-old, Olivia, may be the only one who LOVES it.  There is something so delightful about bundling up and trekking out, being able to see where you've been in the crisp snow, and making a general mess of things with ice and twigs and grass and boots when you tromp back into the house, and then cozying up with a blanket and a warm drink.  Ideally a fireplace, but I think those are against code in our building...

We've been learning about the year and the equinoxes and solstices, and so every day when Olivia looks out and sees the snow-covered ground she asks, "is it solstice?"  A.k.a. Is it winter?

No, it is not officially winter, but I think we should petition that, with negative windchills and blowing snow.  My goodness.  If snow does not a winter make, what does?  I love the softness that a snowfall brings - the thought that the world is still within a snowglobe of flakes - and the pace of life must necessarily slow down.  And blizzards aren't that bad, either - they remind us that we are much smaller than Nature, even with all of our lovely technology - and they make us appreciate the warmth of the hearth and the company of friends.

So I suppose my only caveat with winter is that it has to snow.  A lot.  A Metrodome-roof-collapsing lot.  Which it, unfortunately, despite our northerly latitude, does not.

My mother will send me weather bulletins about blizzards and the worst storm of the century and I won't even read them.  It is too depressing to me, who loves snow, to read with anticipation the doomsday forecasts of 1 foot of snow to see it tapering off as soon as it hits this lake.  "Lake Effect," which to most implies more snow than normal, doesn't apply to us, except in that it usually sucks the moisture right out of the air and then jettisons it across the lake to western Michigan and northern Indiana.

Sometimes I think we live on the wrong side of the lake.

Olivia, however, is too young to be embittered by years of promises broken.   She LOVES the snow, and any sign of it is heartening for her.  Our first snowfall happened before this so-called "blizzard" that just swept through, right on time immediately after Thanksgiving.  Here are some of the fruits of our outside labors.

Brr.  I hope you are warm and cosy seeing these!

11 December 2010

One of life's big questions

Where to live, where to live?

It would be wonderful if I could flip through a real estate catalog and take my pick.  Or, better yet, close my eyes and plunk my finger down on a part of the globe that would determine our next place of residence.

But, of course, there is much more involved in the decision than a simple guess!

The factors to consider are quite numerous, and, like many big decisions, require the proper alignments of the planets before anything can be decided.

The first factor has pretty much decided itself.  We are a family of four living in a one-bedroom apartment.  Although, dear reader, I think we've done a pretty fine job of it, and also considering that I'm the one who is here most of the time with the girls, I can certainly see that we will need some more room soon.  But, to be honest, I'm not entirely convinced!

Which leads me to the second factor, which is cost.  We moved from Chicago to Evanston after Olivia was born for several reasons:  Nathan would be closer to work and would have a shorter commute; there were more trees; and the place we found had a bigger kitchen for only a little more of the cost.  Also, our apartment was the least expensive of all the ones we saw, even though it was also the most ghastly.  When we first came for a showing, the walls were painted bright red and yellow and the bedroom was purple.  Not lavender or lilac - purple.  And the best part was that the paint only went as high up the wall as the person could reach, and so the roller marks stopped about a foot from the ceiling.  Of course, they painted before we moved in, and we further plastered and painted over the cracked walls and had a lot of other work done, so I think the place is in much better shape than when we first began living here.  But, the work was a trade-off for the rent, which, even so, has gone incrementally up in the four years we've been here.  Even now, it's a bit tight for our non-profit, single income budget.  But, then again, the work is a trade-off for the pay - I'm not working for pay on purpose and so subsequently am working much harder at home with my girls.

The trickiest bit is finding a larger place for the same or at least a similar cost.  And, the more settled we've become here, the longer my list of house requirements grows.  Every scenario I've found online has sacrificed one important "must-have," such as a small kitchen with those ghastly oak cabinets (ours are a cheap white, but I like white - it seems so clean - and is easy to clean, to boot), or carpeting (which won't work with my asthma, even new stuff), or too far from the train line (which Nathan uses for work), or not within walking distance to a grocery store (for the days when Nathan takes the car).  Pretty much "not our current place." 

I think that, at this point, dear reader, you may sense my reluctance to leave where we are.  But I also know that change is necessary - a new place would bring it's own exciting challenges.  Not to mention the purging of accumulated junk that happens when one moves.  And the next year may bring big changes for our family in terms of income, and so we may end up needing to move more than just within city limits.

Oh, dear.

So, at this point, I really just have to plan several scenarios for the coming year:  staying in our current place, staying in Evanston, staying in the Midwest, and staying within the U.S.  I suppose I could also plan for international travel, but that is a bit out of my brain range right now.  It's hard to plan a garden in Boston, but who knows!?  As the year progresses, and our lease comes to an end in April and Olivia's school comes to an end in May, I'm sure we'll have a better grasp on things.  But I hate waiting!  And not knowing where you're going to live is rough!

This will be a winter for patience, I suppose.  And counting my seeds and paring our personal belongings for a more-than-likely move.  Wish us luck!

10 December 2010

Two things that are amazing...

...if you are under five.  Or 30, like me.

1)  Netflix on the television.  This one might require a bit of technical explanation.  First of all, let me explain that we don't really watch television, because we don't have cable and since our converter box broke, we can't get any local channels even.  So our computer is solely for those DVDs that haven't met Elsie and been scratched into oblivion and the occasional video game. 

A while ago, a family of generous friends gave us their Wii (woo-hoo!), which is Nintendo's recent family video game console that works with one's television.  We can all play it - even Elsie and Olivia - because it relies on gross motor skills to operate, rather than joysticks.  Anyhow, we've had it for several years now, and have enjoyed it periodically, but mostly during parties when friends are over.  However, Nathan mentioned the other day that the Wii could do more than simply play video games - it could connect to our wireless internet and we could check the news and weather and even watch Netflix - which, for my Gramma, is an online movie service, where you can watch movies and television shows on the computer. 

So we labored last night and figured out how to connect everything and - voila! - we are now able to watch those movies and shows on our television, rather than our computer.  Which is a bit convoluted, I suppose, but it is really exciting for all involved, because, dear reader, it means that I can write this post, because my little person is watching Wonder Pets on the television rather than this computer!

2)  COUCH-BED!!  To add to the excitement of Netflix on the television, we've recently had a line of overnight guests, who have been treated to our guest room - read: living room with our couch converted into a bed, courtesy of IKEA.
This lovely little couch folds out into a queen-size bed, and Olivia and Elsie and I all scramble to make it as hotel-y as possible, with clean sheets and wool blankets and feather (and not) pillows.  But no mints, which I would really like for the pillows.  The funnest part is the folding out, during which both little girls clamber onto the couch part and "ride" while I fold it over and down.  Couchbed is the best thing since sliced bread.

We had it ready for a houseguest last night, who ended up delaying his arrival for another day, and so we had the room all tidy and the bed all comfy for - US!  And we enjoyed every minute.

(In fact, Olivia and I - the early-risers - are currently enjoying both out couchbed and Netflix on the television right now! ;)

28 November 2010

Laundry in the Living Room

Well, it's not actually that bad.

I think I mentioned in an earlier post that one of the ways in which Nathan and I are trying to "beat the system" of materialism is to save some money by hang-drying our laundry.  In the summer, this is a wonderfully fresh and outside-based activity.  I can imagine I'm in a back yard somewhere with grass beneath my feet and trees scattered about.  Sometimes, even little birds come by and sing sweet songs to me as I hang my perfectly spotless tablecloths, and the woodland friends help to hang the sheets.  It's really a sylvan wonderland, you know.

In reality, it's not so different, although I am spared the worry about bird poop from the errant singing sparrow as our back staircase is completely covered.  Living on the third (top) floor, we have rigged a little laundry line outside of our back door.  Being safe from the rain, with a nice large side opening for the breezes (although no direct sun), we hang our things outside on the line, and place our rickety little folding drying racks on the landing and thus our things dry.  Sometimes for days.  There is really very little work involved, save the hanging part, but that appeals to my sense of order, and so it's really an exercise in meditation for me.

But the cold weather always makes me wonder how folks did it prior to dryers in the winter.  True, freezing temperatures evaporate water quite well, and so one ends up with stiff clothes until that water is gone completely, but - brr!  We've taken our drying racks and set them up in the dining room, and then we hang the shirts and things on hangers in the bathroom.  But yesterday, the flood of laundry (we hadn't washed clothes in at least two weeks) necessitated more space.  So, I stuck a few nails above the door jamb and the window casing and strung our camping drying line to and fro along the length of the bathroom, in a sort of zigzag fashion, until I was out of line.  Literally and figuratively, probably, but no one has complained.

The result is quite festive, although instead of banners, socks and aprons wave gaily to and fro in the forced air breeze.

However, unlike the summer season of drying, this fall and winter season is tej'ous!  Nathan runs the gauntlet outside and down the stairs, across the back end of our building to the laundry room in the basement.  Then, either depositing or unloading or both, he returns around the back and up the stairs laden with two wet loads of laundry.  Even in the cold, he is sweating a little from the effort.  He leaves the laundry on the back porch so that if I can't get to it quickly enough, it won't molder in the heat (there is no danger of that right now, mind you!).  I then pick up that freezing cold laundry and hand the little bits inside on the racks.  Olivia's clothes on one, Elsie's on another, and all the socks paired on the line.

There is always a system, you know.

The shirts end up in the bathroom, and the jeans and towels and tablecloths head out to the back line.  If there's no room, they end up on the back porch, back in the basket, to await their turn in frozen captivity.

Last night, socks and delicates took a devil-may-care attitude and ended up on the lines in the bathroom.  We have a houseguest, and she is dear friend, otherwise I think my husband might have been mortified at his skivvies parading about in such a manner.

I would have honestly liked to have left it at that, but Nathan has need of the shower this morning, and so I am up early to take laundry down.  Boy, I hope it's all dry.  Otherwise, I'll be stringing line again around our bathroom, like some sort of laundry fairy.

So, all you with dryers out there, rejoice!  Even if you do lose the occasional sock or two, the convenience is certainly worth it.

Not that I mind, honestly.  There is a bit of romantic heroism in this, I think.  We are actually saving money by cutting out laundry bills in half (the fryer here costs as much as the washer), and there is no hauling to a laundromat, so that saves gas.  Really, the only thing we are expending is work.

And in this case, string.

Which, dear reader, finally brings me to my point.  Hurrah!  In these times, where so much is unstable, there is a little bit of peace found in the simple things.  Eating good, home-cooked foods.  Spending time with friends and loved ones.  And, yes, even hanging the laundry.  This simple act, done out of love for family and value of work, really makes a difference.  At least for the underwear.

27 November 2010

The Frugal Game

So, dear readers, we finally did it.

We cut ourselves off from our credit cards.

This has been REALLY tough, especially in a place where value is measured by purchasing power rather than virtue.

Evanston, where we live, lies on Lake Michigan, right north of the City of Chicago.  It is a suburb, but (and I probably say this only because I live here), it's not really that suburby.  It's a city in itself, but I imagine it to be really an extension of Chicago, only with more trees and a lot less light pollution.  We are right on the El and Metra lines, which shoot straight into the heart of Chicago, so, on a weekday, you can get downtown in less than forty-five minutes.  Which is really saying something in traffic here.

The people are chilly, but that's to be expected in the city.  After a while, you'll find those gems who remember your name and coo over your babies.  Those are the keepers.  We have a "local" national grocery store, where the prices are high, but the people are nice and if I don't show up with my daughters in tow, I am asked at least twice where the girls are.  We have two Whole Foods (that's a long story), lots of boutiques, and the two houses on our block that went up for sale recently each sold for almost a million dollars.

I don't even want to count that high.

So we decided, after lots of tough battles with our budget, that, aside from making more money, the real exercise we need right now is to stop living beyond our means.  Some of you may say, in your smarmiest tones, "Of course! what a silly notion.  I never spend more than I make."  To which I say, "Bravo for you.  What a champion of liberty you are."  But for us, and I dare say the majority of Americans, this is a difficult task.

Just look at "Black Friday."  I almost felt guilty not spending money when everything was on sale.

But I got over it.  And also I digress.

The easiest way we figured we could do this was to stop using our credit cards.  We started it as sort of a challenge, really, in self-discipline, and it's become rather fun.

Our largest expenditure of "variable" things (i.e. not a bill) is on food, so we stopped eating out.  Hard to do, mind you, in the dining capital of the North Shore.  But we did it.  That meant getting up earlier and cooking - not prepared food, but from scratch - breakfast and lunch.  And actually planning for dinner and starting cooking before 5 PM.  We don't have a microwave (that's another long story), so we heat things up with fire.  It's more romantic that way, even if it takes longer.

The funnest part of it has been the meal-planning game.  It goes like this:

1.  Open pantry
2.  Take survey of the various types of beans and legumes
3.  Figure out what sort of concoction one can brew up with mung beans and a can of corn
4.  Find a respectable recipe online (that poor can of corn is still there)
5.  Run to the store and pick up $3 worth of extra ingredients
6.  Cook dinner
7.  Feel pious

Piousness is sometimes better than dessert.


So, once the bills are paid, we divvy up the remainder into those necessary but somehow the first to be cut categories, like laundry and food.  It's reminiscent of the arts in public schools, no?  But we manage, and it's been fun.  And we've been more regular.  Probably all those beans.

So take that, materialism!  Pow!

20 November 2010

Mrs. Baby

This was originally published on Nathan's blog:


But I had to re-print it here, because I haven't posted in a while and also because it is spot on Elsie.

Mrs. Baby

Wearing a dress.
Making sounds nobody knows what they mean.
Saying all the words she knows in random order.
Laughing after soiling herself.
Putting food in my water then screaming at me until I scoop it out.
Pretending to be a cow but making a sound like a bird. 
Looking for things to throw.
Hoarding items in a secret place that only she knows about for days at a time.
Eating bananas like they're crackers.
Demanding pancakes at any and every hour of the day and night.
Sometimes when she's sleeping I call her Mrs. Despot, as a joke.
She then wakes up, gouges my face and shouts at me for a full minute
Before falling back into a "peaceful" sleep.
And I decide go about my day.

03 October 2010

Olivia's Second Day of School

So, yes, it is a little after-the-fact, but I took pictures of it, and so I wanted to post it for all you dear ones far far away.

Olivia has started school - preschool, that is, as she will readily correct you - at our local Montessori School.  She loves it, as far as I can tell.  At least, she is excited to go back, and that is a good sign, I suppose.  She is only in school for three hours a day, but that is plenty, as far as I'm concerned.  I like my babies and want to hang out with them.  Most of the time.

Nathan took the first day of school off of work (figure that out, if you can), so he was home with us to drop Olivia off and again to pick her up.  Which also means that he was home with Elsie and I to ease the transition from three to two.  However, daddy was not there the second day, and so Elsie and I had a harder time of things.  Here's how it went:

1.  We drop off Olivia at school.  Here she is in her new school clothes:

2.  Elsie and I try to figure out what to do next.  By default, we go to the grocery store.  Here's what we pick out to eat:

 Elsie chooses "Booty" (a.k.a. Pirate's Booty) and Coconut Juice.

 I choose coffee with cream and sugar (I make it decaf to justify the splurge) and a raspberry and cheese danish. 

Clearly, we are drowning our sorrows in food.

3.  I think we took a nap then.  I was too sad to remember.

4.  We return to school to pick up Olivia.  Elsie waits with anticipation by the door:
and watches...

 as the door slowly opens...

...and OLIVIA comes out!!  Hooray!

We missed her.  But we are getting used to the change.  And it is good for all of us.  Even if it is a little different.

26 August 2010

Stories From the Third Floor

I found this unposted snippet from several years ago as I was cleaning out files - I think I wrote it probably in December 2008 - before Elsie was even thought about.  It's funny to reflect on the same challenges with two kids - Elsie is at the same climbing stage...


We live on the top level of a three-story courtyard building.  Now, that may not sound so exciting, but when you are a short toddler trying to navigate stairs, that means a lot - notably about 4 minutes, which is 3 minutes and 30 seconds more than your mom sometimes wants to spend on the stairs.

And when you add new boots, which are warm and waterproof and almost engulf your entire leg up to your knee, then increase that time twofold.  Sort of like cinder blocks tied to your shoes.  I think it is comparable to those dreams where you are trying to run on the train tracks and the engine is bearing down on you and it feels as though your feet are trapped in a soggy mire.   Only without the panic.   I hope.

It's amazing what sorts of things your child's memory latches on to during your time together.  Once, in a local hospital, we peered over the edge of a second-level balcony into the lobby below - this particular area had a wall of water and a tall grove of bamboo indoors.  I remarked on the use of bamboo as a greenery choice.  Just in passing.  No real discussion or thesis or anything of the sort.   I probably said it once and was finished.

That evening, however, as we completed our trek from the bottom floor to our apartment door, Olivia seized onto the slats of our wooden balcony and peered through as best she could, pointing a quick finger to the air below and announcing proudly "baboo!"  To this day, regardless of our discussions on the nature and/or presence of bamboo, she will occasionally look down through the lofty heights and announce that she, miraculously, has seen a bit of grassy greenery below.  Amazing.

31 July 2010

Smoothdie Morning

It was a rough morning - I woke up nice and early and trekked over to my garden plot, only to find my green zebra tomato plant completely dead.  It had only been a few days since I had last visited, but I was still racked with tomato killer guilt.  Until I noticed that there was standing water at the root level.  Too much rain is drowning my tomatoes, and I'm sure harboring perfect conditions for tomato fungi.  Great.

Grumpily, I drove by a house we are potentially dreaming about possibly purchasing (we're that sure, you can see) - the main draw is a HUGE yard which would be transformed into an urban farm, courtesy yours truly.  Only to find that the "For Sale" sign was completely gone.  Again, it had only been a few days since I last visited - there was no "Sale Pending" or even "SOLD" sign.  It was all gone.

You just can't do that to a body - first, kill off the colorful tomatoes and then whisk away the dream house.  It was all too much for a morning's work.

I purposely listened to every sad love song I could find on the radio in the remainder of my ride home.

I trudged up the stairs in my muddy galoshes and kick open our front door (it has been sticking) to be greeted by the sound of a crying baby, upset at Nathan for not being able to lactate.  Dejectedly, I flopped down on the bed and held my cranky baby.

Olivia asked "What's wrong, mama?"

I didn't want to talk about it.

So I did the only thing any one would do when faced with such a bleak day.  I made smoothdies with my daughters.  And took pictures of it.

07 July 2010

The After-Bath

Since on a roll with these terrible puns:

 Olivia in her appropriated butterfly towel 
(which used to be Elsie's, officially,
but was commandeered by her older sister).
You can't make her like monsters or make her dislike pink.

 Elsie in her sister's cast-away Monster towel,
which she affectionately calls "Kitty, Miao"
probably due to the two orange horns on top (not pictured)
which could resemble ears...
I like the teeth, especially.


Well, not really, but I thought it was a clever title, this being a "post" and all...

I currently have three sleeping babies in my house.  Two are from my own stock and the third is a dear friend's child.  Sleeping babies = down time.  Hence the deluge of posts.

I have been catching up on Facebook with friends from grade school (wow!), when I attended dear E.J. Brown magnet school in Dayton.  I entered in the highest grade available in the charter year (3rd grade) and they expanded with our class.  My 4th grade year was cut in half by a drive-by shooting which targeted our house for my parents' vocal anti-drug activities in the neighborhood, and so I spent part of that year in Vandalia, where I would eventually attend High School.  I returned to E.J. Brown in 5th grade, only to find my senior status supplanted by an older class of new kids (much resented by me, thank you very much).

It's interesting to "catch up" with someone you haven't seen in YEARS - primarily those formative years that involve fleshing out of viewpoints, brain development, and girls + boys.  The last time I spoke with many of these folks, things like crushes still carried the hazard of cooties.  I remember learning for fun, and having friends whom I loved as only a child can.

My memories of these friends carry snippets:
  • My first real art teacher, Mrs. Debevec, who had long braided hair and wore jangly bracelets and taught us how to make beads rolled out of paper,
  • A joint birthday party with Joanna Miller at SkateWorld, complete with party favor bags decorated in puffy paints,
  • The school-wide lip-sync contest created by Justin McClelland which offered such enticing prizes as Doritos and Pepsi (which may be why I prefer Pepsi to Coke...)
  • Field Day and winning the hula hoop contest,
  • Learning about "cute" boys when Chris Brandewie showed up to school with his photo in a local department store ad and all the girls giggled,
  • Uttering my first swear word (a really bad one), completely by accident, instantly regretting it, but being more mortified that my favorite teacher would find out,
  • Trick-or-treating with Gina and Didi Cordero in their neighborhood, where one of the "rich" houses gave out entire candy bars,
  • OM ("Odyssey of the Mind") with Drew Domer-Shank and making up terrible plays about unearthing Roman coins, which we unabashedly performed at Sinclair Community College,
  • Arriving late to school and finding all my classmates gone (I had missed the field trip), but finding a haven in one of my old classrooms, with a loving teacher who let me read books all day.
All of these reflections hold sweet memories for me, without the awkwardness of high school.  When learning was about discovery, not tests, and friendship was about inclusiveness, rather than exclusiveness.

Interestingly, I am entering that phase again with my oldest daughter, Olivia.  She is excitedly looking forward to the wonder of school this coming fall.  Not yet ready for full-blown kindergarten, she already loves school, and will be entering the 3-6 year program at our local Montessori school.

When asked by these friends what I'm up to, I must admit that, on the outside, it seems not like much.  I'm learning about plants and stars and insects and squirrels - all the things that a little child is exploring.  It doesn't fit well on a resume, but to me is much more valuable than any degree - I am teaching a little soul about the wonder that is creation.  And am hearkening back to the days when I still held that unbridled joy.  It is a beautiful time to reflect upon, and I trust my contact with these dear friends will open those portions of their memories that help them revive their joy, too.

P.S.  I was eating a toasted English muffin while I wrote this, so that title is justified after all...

The Delicious Jungle

I have to admit, dear reader - I'm a two-timer.  I'm cheating on my community garden plot with a second community garden plot.  It's difficult to balance time between the two - if I neglect one for too long, it becomes droopy.  But I've managed it thus far pretty well.  At least that's what I thought...

My primary garden is the community plot we've rented through the city of Evanston.  We were on the waiting list for TWO YEARS before a new garden manager took over and started splitting plots up, so to make more room for the waiters.  Like us.  So it's no wonder that this one is my favorite!  We've taken it from a bed of weeds, to delicious jungle, stalked by pink tomatoes, purple carrots and white eggplants.  Yum!

My secondary garden is actually my first - while waiting with no seeming hope in sight for a space to open up at the Evanston gardens, I learned of a friend who was opening up her yard to the Baha'i community to use as a community garden.  I jumped at the chance, but it was several months before we were able to plant, and by then I had already begun working with the Evanston garden.  So my energy was already taxed by working in my other garden, and I was probably the most lackluster participant.  I suppose I just didn't want to share!

Our second garden plot is shared with a friend, and the entire garden is community property of all who plant there.  Our little plot is divided into four 4'x4' sections, and we have planted a random assortment of whatever seeds we had available - one "flower" section has larkspur, zinnias, nasturtium, and borage.  A second plot holds rows of carrots, parsley, and onions (which never took).  The third section is planted with more carrots, spinach, dill, and radishes.  The fourth (and my favorite) is reserved for several watermelon plants, which grew from seeds I saved from last year.  We shall see if it bears any fruit!

This morning, I woke up early and decided to sneak out of my house before anyone else was stirring.  My first inclination was to go to my primary garden, and finish a few odds and ends before I leave town this weekend, but I thought back to that first love of mine, and how sadly neglected it must feel compared to those nearby plots, whose gardeners planted new seeds or seedlings instead of 7 year-old leftovers, and who benefited from regular weeding and watering.  So I pointed my nose south and drove over to that garden, to see what portion of the relationship I could patch up.

I entered through the gate as quietly as possible (it only being 5:30 AM), and made my way through our host's lovely backyard to the community area.  The neighboring plots looked like the Garden of Eden, and the "blue ribbon" plot, which was thoughtfully and industriously laid out by another family was a cornucopia of vegetable excitement.  Blushing, I turned my gaze to our corner plot.

 It wasn't so bad as I had thought.  The flower section was healthily growing, with lots of tall zinnias and larkspur vying for light.  The borage was pouting in a row in the corner, and the nasturtium was valiantly trying to grow beyond those taller and more bossy plants.  I weeded a bit there, but left the flowers mostly to work things out themselves.

The carrot/onion/parsley section was rather pathetic looking.  The carrots needed some thinning, and were rather saggy.  The parsley was trying it's best, but was clearly needing some help, and there were two valiant onions who had sprung from the old seed we had planted.  Hooray!  I thinned the carrots and cleared the lambs quarters (tasty weeds that they are).  Then I planted purple beans (because they are so gratifying to watch grow) where the onions should have been, and added some parsley seeds to complete the sparse rows.

The radishes had completely taken over the third section.  We had planted them for the girls (Olivia, Elsie, and our friend's daughter, Kaia) to watch grow, because they are quick to sprout and quick to come to fruition, but we had neglected them, and they had gone insane by sending up huge leaves (akin to beets), and leaving mostly paltry roots below (they had needed thinning a long time ago).  The leaves had overshadowed the carrots and dill, so they had to go.  I went at it with a vengeance, and was pleased to see that, although long deprived of sun from their ravenous radish neighbors, the dill and carrots were growing as best they could.  A little thinning and a good pep talk later, they looked somewhat better.  The spinach had one plant which had survived the radish onslaught, and so I weeded around it, and added several neighboring rows of spinach for company.

The watermelon plants were elegantly spreading their vines in their private bed.  I admired how pretty they were, and weeded a bit, but such a plant is mostly happy with its own praise.

Upon leaving, and hoping to arrive home in time to sneak in a shower before those other people in my house woke up, I reflected a bit on my garden.  I suppose it is alright to have two loves - as long as they are treated equally.  I was generally disappointed at the fruits from this garden thus far, but then reminded myself that the garden was not to blame - a negligent gardener was the real culprit.  Next year, I will try something different - I will plan a little better and make sure that I have a full and wonderful set of gardens, if possible.  This year I would chalk up to experience, and I will eat my humble pie this year with relish (made from the neighbor's cucumbers).

But all was not lost.  To assuage my hurt pride, I had planted two pie pumpkin mounds.  Although the neighboring plots were verdant with squashes and tomatoes and beans and kale, I soothed my wounded ego by assuring myself that, come fall, my plot would be the most popular.

06 July 2010


I am hurriedly typing this, as soon we are taking Olivia to her second week of "Wildflower camp" here in Evanston, at the Ecology Center, where she will be learning about "Hide 'n' Seek Animals" - i.e. how animals hide in nature.

The girls are currently in our front room dancing to our new favorite song from the World Cup 2010 by K'naan.

This past weekend, we hosted a dear friend, Jessica Gaines, who was in the city for a teacher training session.  She got to sleep on, as Olivia calls it, our "couch bed," which is essentially a glorified futon from IKEA.  We kept the bed down to play on - it is not only a couch and a bed, but also a tent and a stage and a trampoline and an ocean, among other things - but Olivia kept referring to it as "Kutuh's bed" (a little note of explanation - when Olivia was little, pronouncing "Jessica" was out of the question, so "Kutuh," which is pronounced "cut-uh," was the result.  And, like most nicknames, it stuck).

Anyhow, Olivia spent yesterday morning writing out "bed name tags," using post-it notes to denote where people slept.  After placing "Nat," "Liz," and "Elsie" on our big bed, she put "Ranbom* Baer," "Flower Baer," and "Olivia" on her little bed.  Then, finding a seventh blank note, she said:

"I will make one for Kutuh, in case she comes again to visit."

So now, Jessica's nickname, which I only recently learned is actually spelled "C-a-t-a" if you happen to be four, is proudly stuck up in pink post-it note glory on our lovely tan wall for all to see! :)

*her "w" was upside-down, and looked like an "m."

05 July 2010

Pony Party

Marketer's Dream:
Perfectly Popular Product is a smash hit with generation of little girls.  Product moves to the background as little girls grow up and into other products.  Sad marketers, sad product bide their time and watch as big girls grow up more and become mommies.  Mommies with babies, and then children.  Children who are little girls.  Happy marketers re-launch Perfectly Popular Product with a "new look" to fit in with the new times, and product is consumed completely by new little girls with mothers full of nostalgia.  Ecstatic marketers twirl and spin in a field full of light and showers of dollar bills.


Olivia is four and loves horses.  We can't afford a real one (where would it sleep?), but we CAN afford My Little Ponies.  You can even comb and braid their ridiculously long manes.  Which is just what we did.  The old and the new:

Pony Party!!

22 June 2010


"I am Eloise.  I am six. 

"I am a city child.  I live at the Plaza..." 

Thus begins one of my favorite children's book of all time.  As a child, I have memories of myself, stretched out on my tummy on my grandmother's guest room bed, poring over this beloved book.  The language I would later better understand, but the pictures of Eloise by Hilary Knight were perfect for my pre-adolescent imagination.  Knight perfectly captures the many facets of emotion of the intelligent and sprightly child, and as a child, I knew exactly what Miss Eloise was thinking without having to read a single word.

Now that I am literate (or at least a little moreso), I love reading it out loud.  I have to admit that I am probably the best "out-loud" reader of Eloise.  Ever.  I secretly judge the inflection and speed of every other adult who gets conned into reading Eloise to Olivia and I think that I am the best by far.  But that's probably because I have the entire thing practically memorized.  So I challenge you, all adult-like folk who stop by my house, to an Eloise reading throw-down.  I will win, but it will be fun to see how you ramble off that bit about the elevator.

That's the adult Eloise in me.

And I am fostering that beautiful sense of self-confidence in my little ones.  I love Eloise because she is independent and smart and frank.  She is a great hero for little girls and one of the few beloved picture-book heroines.  Everyone needs a little bit of Eloise.  Especially little girls.  Especially now!

So, for your viewing pleasure, here are some shots of Olivia during her weekly Eloise calisthenic routine!

Standing on her head for the longest amount of time:


After all, she is only four (six)!

03 June 2010

All About Me

People, for the most part, are never the same after children.  The shift from "person" to "parent" is immediate and irreversible (in most cases).  In general, with that fat little baby's arrival comes the departure of individual identity - you are no longer "Liz," an autonomous and willful individual, but "Olivia's mother" (well, you may not be, but at least I am), whose every moment is dedicated to the survival and eventual thriving of a new life.  It's as though new parents stow away their souls along with anything breakable that baby might be able to reach.

For each parent, the reclamation of individuality comes at a different time.  There are many variables - season, personality, employment - that determine the length of time a parent remains in anonymity.  Men, it seems, emerge from their new baby shock earlier, having no real biological function in the first year, save to keep mommy sane and well-fed enough to produce milk for that fat baby to grow.  Daddy has to go back to work in whatever way he can.  And, now with high costs of living and even higher materialistic standards (don't get me started...), mamas are finding that the need to work outweighs other challenges of parenting.  It's a tricky balancing act.

For the mother who has chosen to remain "home with the baby," this social non-existence can stretch out for years.  Especially, as in our case, if you add another baby to the family mix.  The general structure of life, particularly where we live - in the central United States - supports a very individualistic way of life that many people find isolating.  And even more so for the young mother, who thrives in social situations but is now home.  All day.  With a very squirmy, very loud, and VERY helpless tiny person.  Gone are the days of going out to discuss life's interesting questions with friends, or quiet dinners for to.  Really, going out anywhere at all is, frankly, right out.

And what of the young mother who has trained for years to "earn money?"  Does she know about lactation and the right foods and herbs to support healthy nursing?  About latches and sleep cycles and all of those all-consuming issues that keep poor new parents up late, even after their little one has fallen asleep?  A precious few have taken crash courses right before baby was born, but what about those life lessons that a child-centered community can impart?  What about her self worth when she no longer can "contribute" to society through financial gain?  Where is the paycheck (because the dollar is how all things are given value anymore) for the unsung labors of the mother, who literally gives herself to the survival of her child?  And, to top it off,  a this new charge in no way generates income but is more akin to a large and seemingly bottomless pit into which the family's income inexplicably disappears.

Women, who for generations found strength in community, are drowning in the sea of a culture that doesn't value women's work.

This little essay started out with lighthearted intentions, but has clearly taken a turn for more challenging waters.  To return to the earlier vein, I am pleased to announce that I have found my soul again (thank goodness)!  I had lost it in a tidal wave of baby clothes that plagued our closet for years.  And once those clothes were  removed and tidily labeled for an impending yard sale, I noticed that there were other things in that closet:  portraits I had taken from years back, art supplies and cameras, lovely fabrics and even a shirt that my grandmother had cut and pieced but never finished sewing.  It was a real treasure hunt as I pulled out dear items and reflected on creativity long past.  I recalled a recent conversation with a trusted friend, who gently reminded me that I was a creative person.  Not only that, but I needed creativity - I needed space for it.  At the time, I thought she meant "space" in a general sense, i.e. space in my life.  But upon further inspection, I realized that I needed literal space.  Namely a large desk, and a place to put my sewing machine.

A while back, I transformed a third of our large closet into a writing office for my husband.  I even divided the space with a floor-to-ceiling curtain, so that his space felt like a real room.  It's lovely and useful for all his writing needs, and I'm proud to say he's brought a large portion of his writing "to paper" in that room.  The other portion of the closet was designated space for "things" - baby clothes too small for Olivia but too big yet for Elsie, our shoes and clothes, hampers, suitcases, etc.  Enough to literally cram the space full.  But no longer.  It has been cleared out and tidied - those "things" seen for what they are - impediments to growth and life - and new space found.  Enough for a desk for me.  And my sewing machine.

30 April 2010


We have a community garden plot!  Hooray!!

If you've been reading our admittedly sparse entries recently, you may have guessed that we were in search of a little bit of land in which to plant all manner of exciting things.  After two whole years on the waiting list, we were finally offered a plot in Evanston's Community Garden Program this year.  It's half a plot (200 sq. ft.) and it's our very own:

So we have started weeding and planning and have even planted a row of sunflowers.

Olivia loves digging and planting and Elsie, it turns out, loves dirt.  Eating it, that is.  The other evening, we popped over to the garden for a spot of weeding.  I had bought a little yellow spade for Elsie, and she seemed really excited about it - in fact, I didn't really hear a peep out of her, and could see out of the corner of my eye (as I was viciously attacking dandelions), that she was playing contentedly.

I redoubled my weeding onslaught and looked up only to see my one year-old with a muddy face.  She had been using the spade as a spoon to shovel (literally) dirt into her mouth.

She had also taken a minute to rub her eye, and thus looked a bit raccoonish, with a dirt smudge over her eyebrow.

Olivia thought it was hilarious.

It was.  Dirty, but hilarious.

08 April 2010


A friend of ours, Sholeh Loehle, took this photo of Miss Elsie the other day, as I was working on sewing some curtains for Foundation Hall in the Baha'i House of Worship.  Elsie & Olivia were amusing themselves and playing with their "Uncle" Henry, who had contracted me to do the work.  He played with the girls while I sewed away.  It was a nice trade-off.

This photo was published on the site "Nineteen Months," which is a Baha'i-inspired photo site that each (Baha'i) month, publishes photos that reflect the attribute associated with that month.  (In the Baha'i calendar, each month is named after an attribute of God.  There are nineteen months in the Baha'i year.)  This month's theme is "Glory" (Jalal, in the original Arabic).


07 April 2010

Grandpa's Passing

I never really knew my Grandpa Davis - in fact, I think I spoke to him a total of two times.  Do not think me a callous grandchild, dear reader.  You must remember that he was my grandfather by marriage - that is, I "inherited" him through my husband.  I was very excited about this - I had (and still have) only one remaining blood grandparent, my dear Gramma (my mother's mother), and so to gain not only a husband and another set of parents, but two full sets of grandparents was certainly a deal and a half!

I met Grandpa Davis early in our marriage (i.e. right after we were married) and I was still the new awkward member of the family.  I wasn't sure of the family culture and how things worked, so I was silent and watched.  I think it was a Thanksgiving, and Grandma Davis had (as usual) thrown down the cooking gauntlet.  There were greens and macaroni and cheese and turkey and sweet potatoes and Lord knows what else to eat.  Which I did.  I never met a food I didn't like, except maybe shrimp, but that's only because I'm allergic.  All of the Davis family was there - at least, all that I can remember.  It was a crash course in the Davis family tree, and I still don't have it straight.  But I do recall real open hospitality, and urges to eat and eat some more.  I have no specific memories of Grandpa from that day, save his presence in the house, but he was now a part of my new and exciting family.

There were other times we stopped in to visit, but only few.  We were in college far away from Chicago, and rarely got up to the city to say hello.  And then Grandma and Grandpa Davis moved with Uncle Carl to Florida, and we never saw them, save when Grandma came up to visit her friends.  We heard about them third-hand, from stories passed on by my parents-in-law, who were secretly worried about their health and the distance between them.

So my memories of Grandpa are few, and seem faded like an old photo.  I recall bright, twinkling eyes shining from a well-worn face.  He seemed to have a constant smile, as though he was secretly keeping a running joke.  From the stories I hear, he was!

But the best way to know a soul is to see the fruit of his labors.  Both Grandpa and Grandma Davis worked hard to raise three bright and brilliant boys.  I know a little of Uncle Carl, and a little more about Uncle Vincent, since we went over for barbecues when he lived in the suburbs, but I know my father-in-law George best.

George, who is the namesake of his father.  Who is serious and lighthearted, spiritually-minded and loving, who has journeyed through his own life and met his own challenges, but who is still his father's eldest son.  He has worried and worked like only a son can do, and held his concerns close to his heart, sharing them with only a few.  I admire him greatly - his tireless work ethic, his love for his family, his commitment to justice.  He is at times stoic and seems to be full of lofty ideas, at other times open and easily approachable.  I know that his father is there, and I respect Grandpa even more for the gifts he gave to his son.  Those gifts were also given to my husband, distilled through trials and bestowed upon the next generation to ease the passage through life.

And now we are honoring the passage from life to the Eternal Realm, the Abhá Kingdom.  We are left with the earthly remains, while to soul wings onward.  We rally as a family to support those nearest to the grief, and we are brought closer together in the midst of separation.

Journey well, Grandpa Davis.  And we'll see you joyful on the other side!

Two Sisters (On the Terrace)

By Renoir.

This one is for my mama.

06 April 2010

Vacation: The Artsy View

So here are some of my favorite photos from our recent vacation.  In no particular order.

My brilliant husband, making us laugh.

Elsie interacts fully with art.

Architectural brilliance & beauty.

There's nothing quite like a fish with a moustache.

This is super-dark, but I love the idea of faded splendor that this old chandelier represents.

Fishes of the Jelly Persuasion.

Mama & Baby Beluga.

Sleepy Baby Face.

Olivia waits with anticipation.  And especially long eyelashes.

This is my favorite!!

05 April 2010


We're home!  Here are some highlights:

We stayed at the Hilton Chicago.  Here is our view from the window, overlooking Grant Park and Lake Michigan.  That is the Adler Planetarium (with the dome) and the Shedd Aquarium in the distance.

First, we walked to the "Cloud Gate," which most Chicagoans call "the Bean," in Millennium Park (a small corner of Grant Park).  It was several blocks north of our hotel, right on Michigan Avenue, and on our "map," which I had drawn for Olivia prior to our trip.

Olivia touched it first, but Elsie wasn't sure what to make of it.
Here we all are, although the balmy weather made for many tourists and therefore many smudges on the reflective surface:

Then we walked over the bridge from Millennium Park to the new Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago.  Inside, they have a FREE Family Room, in which children and parents can play and read and work puzzles of some of the works of art from the museum.  There was even a great video which morphed images of some of the faces in the museum (portraits and sculptures and masks, etc.) - this was really mesmerizing to watch!  Elsie & Olivia loved the soft climbing "waves" along one of the walls:

After much running about, we finally calmed down enough to walk through the Museum.

Here is Nathan enjoying some Impressionist works:

Here are Elsie and I climbing the stairs in front of a Georgia O'Keefe painting, which is the largest in the Museum's collection:

The next day, we woke up and high-tailed it to the Aquarium.  In the rain.  Halfway there, Nathan reminded me that I had forgotten our tickets.  He bravely ran back and got them!  Without having to wait in the already long line to purchase tickets, we whisked through the entrance and went to see the new show they have called "Fantasea."  We weren't that impressed by all the theatrics, (such as this fellow here in the birdman costume):

but we did love the animals.

Olivia got to play in a "tide pool" with toy sea creatures,

And both girls got to dress up an penguins.  Here is Elsie watching the Aquarium volunteer hop like a penguin:

And here is Olivia sliding down the "ice" slide:

After all the Aquarium fun, we were all tuckered out.  Elsie napped,

While Olivia snacked on seaweed.  She must have gotten some from the fish tanks.  Or my backpack.  Probably the latter.

Later on, we all snuck into the Grand Ballroom at our hotel (the Chicago Hilton), which was very reminiscent of something Eloise might do.   This is what it looks like all lit up:

But this is the mysterious land we traveled through:

After a good night's sleep and some room service, we took the train home early so Nate could get to work.