Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Just Checking In

I've decided to take some time during the slow and lazy days of summer to take a step back from many of my responsibilities and activities and try to just Be. I haven't been writing, or reading my usual blogs too much - I've been focusing more on reading books (there's just something about holding a book in your hands, isn't there??) and being outside with my family and friends. I have been thinking a lot about community - what it means and how to build one - and I've decided that it is time for me to make a commitment to spending less time at the keyboard and more time with my peeps. We've spent time with grandparents, had a tie-dye party yesterday, had dinner with friends, and attended lots of playdates and park trips.

On that note, I'm off to snuggle with Bess on the couch for awhile.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Chick Lit

Okay, I hate to be that mom, though I'm kind of getting used to it. You know, the mom who complains to the librarian that the books she uses for the "Family" theme story time do not include any single-parent, same-sex parent, or any other non-traditional families? She's me.

Another mother from Bess' school recommended a book to me called Silent Kay and the Dragon by Larry Dane Brimner. I got it out of the library yesterday, and - I guess I'll start with the part where I am checking out the book and the librarian seems shocked that I am checking out a DRAGON book for my DAUGHTER. Ah, the country life...

Now, the main character's name is Kay, and she's on the cover, so clearly it's a "girl book". But here's my question: why Silent Kay? Why not Mighty Kay or Clever Kay? Why is the title character Silent?

And then I read the book. I guess the point is that dragons who seem scary at first can really be helpful and kind, but Silent Kay is kind of bumbling. She doesn't realize that her shoelaces are tied together, and trips and falls - but luckily the dragon is there to untie the laces and save her before they share a nice, civilized cup of tea. Even when the dragon slayer IS a girl, she still can't actually manage to be a heroine. She still needs someone to come to her rescue.

Maybe I should have a t-shirt made up to wear to the library so at least the staff knows what they're up against when I come in: "Yeah, I'm that mom". Or maybe they all already know...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Senior Service

I've been having another blah week and haven't quite pulled myself together enough to write. We were away last weekend in Boston and got to see the tall ships in Boston Harbor but we had to rush home early because Sarah was very sick. Turns out that whatever she had was either contagious or was due to something both dogs had eaten, because the night we got home, Chryssi came down with it too. On the bright side, it was fixable, but cleaning up after two large and very sick dogs is extremely exhausting. Then John's mom stayed with us for a couple of days, and I am just re-gaining my bearings after nearly a week of running ragged.

We did have a nice day on Wednesday, though, when our Holistic Moms group went to a local assisted living facility and had snacks and did crafts with the residents. They seemed to really enjoy the kids' company, and I think the kids enjoyed it to once they got over their shyness (even Bess!).

And here's one for good measure, just because it cheers me up:

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Book Review - Three Cups of Tea

Okay, so maybe this book is one that is beyond review. It seems that I am the last person I know to have read it, so most people have already formed their own opinions of it. That said, I loved it so much that I still feel the need to comment.

For anyone who hasn't read Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace....One School at a Time, and without spoiling the ending for you, the gist of the story is this: a mountaineer, Greg Mortenson, gets lost in Pakistan after failing to summit K2, the second-highest mountain in the world after Everest, but the most difficult to climb according to most. While being cared for in an extremely remote Pakistani village, he sees that the children have no school but instead do their lessons in the dirt on top of a hill with no teacher. He promises to return and build a school for them. And he does.

This book has it all. I love stories about people who participate in mountain climbing and other "extreme" sports, because I'm fascinated by people who push their bodies to their limits. I love to read books that teach me things I didn't know before, such as the lesson in central Asian politics and culture that I received from reading this one. And of course I love stories about people who find ways to make a difference - and boy, did he! Not only did he change the lives of countless young individuals, Greg Mortenson is (arguably) a one-man anti-terrorism squad, one that is probably more effective than any other. Some other reviewers have complained about the near hero-worship of Mortenson by the co-author of this book, journalist David Oliver Relin, but personally I wasn't bothered by it at all. Relin is frank about his devotion to Mortenson and his cause in the introduction - and quite any adulation doesn't seem to have gone to Dr. Greg's head, and seems pretty well-deserved at any rate.

I got the children's version of the book, Listen to the Wind: The Story of Dr. Greg and Three Cups of Tea from the library, and love it. The illustrations are paper collages, and are colorful and beautiful. The story is simple, told from the perspective of the Korphe school children who take their lessons at the first school Moretenson built. There are photographs of the children, of Mortenson, and of Pakistan at the end. There is also a young adult version of Three Cups of Tea that I plan on checking out.

Mortenson co-founded the Central Asia Institute with Dr. Jean Horney in 1996 to promote community education for the children (especially girls) of Pakistan and Afghanistan. In addition to building schools, the CAI also has built women's vocational centers and water projects, and offers scholarships to graduates of CAI schools who want to continue their studies. Pennies for Peace is a project of the CAI, through which children can collect their pennies, which are nearly worthless here in the US but are valuable in central Asia, and donate them to help fund more CAI projects. I look forward to helping to start a P4P project at Bess' school in the fall!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Garden Updates

Some big buzzy bees have decided to build a hive in our hay. Mostly, this makes me happy - I know that bees are a dying breed and are necessary for the health and prosperity of our little garden plot. However, I am a bit concerned since the kids' playthings are next to the garden, and the bees seem to have made a habit of hanging out (indeed - they park their furry little butts [abdomens?] on Harry's climbing thingy and sun themselves) where the small humans of our family play. I am not bee-phobic, but I would just as soon not see either of my children stung if it can be avoided, so I think we'll end up temporarily relocating the climbing apparatus away from the garden. I'm not sure it will help that much, since the bees have found some yummy snacking in the elm tree near the house.

We also have another visitor to the garden, this one more mysterious. Some critter has been eating the squash blossoms, picking them clean off the stems. No nibbling here, just one big mouthful. If I didn't have a five-foot fence around the entire perimeter of the yard I'd think it was the deer, but given the fact that there is a fence, and the dogs are out there all hours of the day and night (especially the old, increasingly incontinent one), I find it unlikely that they'd bother to jump the fence, even for such a choice morsel. Or, I guess it could be...my best guess right now is that it's a groundhog. I'm considering setting up surveillance so I can figure it out for sure, but either way, it doesn't look good for squash this year at the DiNorcia garden.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The REAL Opt-Out Revolution

I occasionally guest-blog for Mothers Ought to Have Equal Rights (MOTHERS) Your Woman in Washington. Here's my latest:

I recently took a ride down to Princeton, NJ to see a talk given by a woman named Shannon Hayes. It was about what she calls Radical Homemaking, or Enlightened Homemaking. Radical Homemakers are those who eschew many modern conveniences ("necessities") and choose instead to live a simple, low-tech lifestyle. In her research that led her to write a book about these Enlightened Homemakers, she has found that people can follow this lifestyle anywhere - in a city, in the suburbs, on a farm, in a highrise. It is not necessarily about being a "back-to-the-land" type (though I'd say that those types are well-represented among the members of this movement), but about finding ways to practice self-sufficiency whenever and however possible.

Read the rest

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Second-Hand Shopping

I've been shopping consignment stores for years for my kids, but truth be told, I've never taken the leap for myself - until yesterday. I was in Madison picking up some of the wonderful drugs that are helping my cancer-ridden dog make it through her days relatively pain-free, and I was in the rare position of being there with no animals or kids, all of whom were home with John. I decided to pop into one of the many second-hand clothing stores in the neighborhood to take a look.

For kids, I've always felt like buying hand-me-downs is one thing. Half the time the stuff is new, and even if it's not, it's barely been worn before the original wearer outgrew it. But for me, I've been ambivalent. I was uncomfortable at first because I was the youngest person in the store at the time. By half. I was afraid that most of the clothes would be, let's say, not my style. I'm no slave to fashion, but, well, you get the idea.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a few things during my fifteen-minute shopping spree that not only fit well, but were really nice, things I would have bought new. And for $45 (which was probably less than what several of the pieces cost new) I got a skirt, two pairs of shorts, two shirts and a sweater. Not a bad deal!

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Fungus Among Us

I am in the middle of reading a book called Keepers of Life: Discovering Plants Through Native American Stories and Earth Activities for Children by Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac. It is one of a series designed to teach biology, ecology, botany, earth science, and "environmental and stewardship issues" (from the inside jacket flap) from a Native North American perspective. I am enjoying it, and learning a lot.

For example, I read all about fungus today. I did not know that fungus are not actually plants, but are commonly considered to be a group of organisms unto itself. I also did not know that mushrooms are not actually the fungus, but the mechanism by which the fungus spreads its spores (some reproduce sexually, some asexually - it seems to be quite complicated and I can't claim to fully understand it, and I'm not sure I really need to at this point in my life).

Given the truly ridiculous amount of rain we've gotten recently, we have an abundance of interesting specimens to look at in our yard - mushrooms of all shapes, sizes and colors:

The books gives instructions as to how to make a spore print, but I am nowhere near comfortable enough with my identification skills, not to mention Bess' ability to keep her hands out of her mouth, to attempt to pick a suitable specimen. So, we will just have to be satisfied with admiring them from afar, and thanking them for their work making soil out of dead stuff!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Bright Side

I've been in a pretty foul mood for the past several days. I'm really upset about my dog having cancer, and I got a sunburn while at the beach, and my dishwasher is broken again, Harry is sick yet again, and Bess is wearing me down with the INCESSANT noise noise noise noise!

So, while washing the many, many dishes that have accumulated in the past day and feeling very un-Zen about it, I decided that I need to change my attitude. So here it goes:

I am grateful that I have had twelve years with an amazing creature who has changed my life for the better, and I am grateful that I have the means to keep her comfortable for the time she has left.

I am grateful that I was able to enjoy some time outdoors with my family this past weekend.

I am grateful that I had a delicious and nourishing meal with my husband and children this evening.

I am grateful to have the flexibility in my life and my job that I can be available to comfort my sick baby.

I am grateful to have a healthy, energetic, intelligent and curious daughter who is in love with life.

Breathing in....breathing out....